Recently, scientist explored and proved the immense importance of the body’s fascia network for fitness and health of athletes. A well-trained and well-integrated fascial network optimizes both maximum performance and coordination. By including fascial consciousness in the Karate training it lifts performance limits. Fascial preloading and Catapult-like discharge allow extremely fast and effortless movements. The fascial system is loaded and discharged to the point of the highest tension, the kime. By Punito Michael Aisenpreis
The Fascinating Organ
Fascia (lat. fascia for “band”, “bandage”) refers to the soft tissue components of the connective tissue that penetrates the whole body as an enveloping and connecting tensional network. These include all collagen fibrous connective tissues, in particular
- joint- and organ capsules,
- tendon plates,
- muscle septa,
- tendons, as well as the
- “actual” fascia in the form of “muscle skins” that enwrap the whole body stocking-like.
Numerous manual therapeutic procedures aim to trigger a lasting change in fascia. These include, for instance, the connective tissue massage, osteopathy, Rolfing, or Myofascial Release.
A Brief History of Fascia Research
Karate originated about 130 years ago in Okinawa with Chinese influence in secret from the “Tode” (Itosu, Asato). Gichin Funakoshi refined it in Japan from the 1920s. Around the same time, osteopathy emerged in the United States. Andrew Taylor developed the manual healing art in the “wild west”, where there was no medical care. In osteopathy, the importance of fascia as the all-connecting and nourishing tissue was emphasized from the beginning of the art.
Western medicine, on the other hand, perceived fascia mostly as mere packaging organs and ignored its meaning. In practical anatomy, medical students around the world learned to prepare away the enveloping fascia as comprehensively as possible, so that “you could see something”. However, German medical Prof. Dr. Alfred Pischinger discovered in the 1970s the immune and protective functions that take place in the fascial connective tissue, as a system of basic regulation.
Fascia: The Internet of the Body
Fascia works like an internet within the body. Due to its features we are able to perceive and control our bodies. Research on myofascial power transmission made a significant contribution to the new understanding of fascia. Most muscles transfer a considerable part of their traction force not directly to the associated tendons, but to parallel neighboring muscles. This is mainly done via cross-connections between adjacent muscle shells. That neighboring muscles are coworker, supporter or enabler muscles is not surprising. However, as we have now found out, this also happens between functional antagonistic muscles. Even in a healthy human being, muscles influencing membranous fascial tensions instead of directly acting on the skeleton, so like ropes that span a sail.
Kime: the Art of Controlled Locking
The Karate of the old master shows movements that explode without effort or intent. In Karate, Kime refers transmitted energy at the moment of greatest tension during a stroke or kick. Practitioners should carry out movements quickly and relaxed. At the moment of the meeting of the technique the body discharges the energy.
Kime is an essential part of karate. Viewed from the outside, Kime appears as a sudden controlled locking (“snapping”) of the technique-carrying arm or leg a few centimeters (Sun-dome) in front of the target, or in an emergency exactly at the target. Mastery of the Kime allows both fast, and at the same time powerful techniques. I addition, it protects the fighter from getting tired due to permanent muscle tension. This explosion and snapping uses the charged and preloaded fascial system.
Kime is not a Muscle Cramp: Pre-loading versus Tightening
Karate beginners sometimes misunderstand Kime as pure muscular tension. This makes their techniques slow and this costs a lot of energy. In the long run, this permanent muscle tension makes the muscles hard and short, the fascia matted and immobile and destroys the joints, often hips or knees. When a Japanese Sensei says “tightening,” he probably means “pre-loading” and then letting go. At the end of the explosive movement, the fascial tension of one movement locks the arm or leg and thus builds up new fascial tension for the next movement. Thus, a catapult-like motion dynamic is created. This acts much faster and from the center of the body than would be possible with pure muscle contraction.
The Double-Directed Bow: Pre-charging, Letting go, Pre-charging!
At the end of every movement the catapult charges itself (Kime) for the next catapult movement. The follow-up technique receives the energy from the Kime of the previous technique. It behaves like a pre-charged bow, which preloads after the release of an arrow. Then it loads up again and shots the next arrow. This pre-loading does not take place primarily in the muscles, but in the fascia. Thus, even small and less muscular athletes can perform lightning-like and strong techniques if they rely on the advantages of their fascia system. (see, for example: Sensei Andre Bertel and Sensei Naka Tatsuya).
Fascial trains, breathing, and Kime: “San ten riki ho”
A strong Gyaku-zuki executed on the heel, and the internal tension of the adductor fascia in Zenkutsu dachi gives us a stable position. This becomes obvious when we look at Karate stances and techniques from a fascial system point of view. Consider the compression of the fascial chains from foot to hip together with a hip rotation and the discharge of these compressed joints along the fascial trains with weight shifting in the direction of the technique.
Breathing in the lower abdomen allows us to stimulate the vegetative nervous system by compressing the fascia of the trunk and thus “collecting Ki”. The trunk fascia transfers this through hip rotation into the shoulder, elbow and fist.
When the stance is combined with fascia compression on the ankle, hip rotation, and power transfers along the fascia trains with Kokyu (breathing power) and weight shifting, a powerful technique is effortlessly created that explodes with Kime. So we have “San” (three) “ten” (places) of “riki” (power) transferred through the fascial system. Good examples of the pre-loading of the fascia before the explosive unloading are also the Hikite (drawing back hand to hip) and the Hikiashi (drawing back of the foot).
Fascia Injury and Fascial Damage
Most overload damage in the sports sector does not affect the red muscle flesh, but the white-colored collagen fiber network of the body, what we call fascial tissue. We also know today that this network is one of our most important sensory organs. It is the basis of our coordinate body perception. In addition, fascia can bond, matte, scar and lose its spring force and mobility. The fascia network can also change to the detriment of a wrong diet, permanent stress and permanent physical tension. It can become rigid and immobile, and become a source of pain, burden and dysfunction.
Fascia Training and Therapy
A well-trained and integrated fascia network optimizes both maximum performance and the coordination of detailed movements. There are many receptors in the fascia that give information about how the body behaves in motion. Thus, it is not the skin that is our largest sensory organ, but the fascia. A well-trained connective tissue is elastic and stretchy, at the same time tear-resistant and strong and forms the basis for vital strength and physical performance. These are important resources for a long-term healthy Karate training.
Make Fascia Fit Again
The fascial system is highly innervated and can be acting as a pain generator. This is one of the most important new findings in fascia research. Micro-cracks in the back fascia often seem to act as pain generators. As new studies have shown, the intervertebral disc often has nothing to do with the cause of pain. To wear off of the intervertebral disc is a natural process like graying of the hair. But it does not automatically cause pain – even with a clearly visible herniated disc.
From now on, we can and must argue body and exercise therapists in a completely different way in terms of training and stress. Some traditional back school methods, for example, have spared the fascia in everyday life, instead of strengthening their elasticity and tear resistance through a well-dosed training.
The result may come suddenly: If you make an unjointed movement with a crooked back, the fascia is not trained and tears. Research has shown that that backfascia play an crucial role in cases of acute back pain. Therefore, it is sometimes essential to consult a specialists on this fascia. Targeted fascia therapy solves adhesion and bonding. The fascial layers can slide again on top of each other and regain mobility and flexibility. This therapy frees the patient from acute and chronic pain. It increases mobility and well-being in the body. This often leads to a feeling of vitality, joy and lightness, and to effortless and lightning-fast Karate techniques.
At birth, our body and connective tissue consist of almost 75% water. This liquid content decreases to about 55% with age. Sufficient fluid supply is essential for a functioning fascia system. However, it should not be an alcoholic or sugary drink, but water with possibly some electrolytes. Alcohol causes the fascia system to swell and mattify. Too little water forces it it to dry out. The “few beers” after the workout are poison for our fascia system. Acidified and greased fascia is the location for many metabolic toxins that our bodies can no longer dispose. Long-chain fiber-rich carbohydrates such as quinoa, millet or natural rice provide our fascia with a continuous source of energy.
Collagen and elastin, the components of the fascia, are made of proteins, so it is important to supply the body with these substances sufficiently to renew the fascia system. “Light” proteins such as soy products, chicken or fish are recommended. Unsaturated fatty acids (omega3) are just as important for our fascia system, which we can source from olive oil, linseed oil or fish. Important vitamins for connective tissue are vitamin C, D, K and all B vitamins. Calcium, the micronutrients magnesium, potassium and sodium must be well balanced to keep our fascia system in good shape. Some other trace elements such as selenium, zinc, molybdenum and manganese. We can eat all these substances with a natural and unrefined diet using mainly vegetables and fruit.
Kihon, Kata, Kumite – Practice Karate in the fascia!
Each training component of the fascia training in Karate focuses on one of the outstanding properties of the collagen network with the aim of increasing the resilience (spring force) of the connective tissue. In this sense, each Karate training should contain the following fascia components:
- Spring action. Catapult Training (elastic spring): spring action movements for strengthening the tissue flexibility. Rotational movements of the torso as well as opening and closing of the shoulder belt with chest and back tension can increase the ability to catapult-like movements. In addition, the warm-up can contain springy movements. Roller backwards, forwards and fall exercises also improve spring force.
- Stretching. Agility Training (Fascial Stretching): Stretching exercises to increase flexibility. At the end of training with a warmed-up body improves mobility. Individual segments with shoulder belts or hips as well as the whole body can be stretched alone or as a partner exercise.
- Invigorating. Myofascial Release (Fascial Release): techniques for dissolving, rehydration and regeneration, metabolic training. This is where targeted nutrition, fascia roll and partner treatment come into play.
- Refining. Sensory Refinement: promoting the quality of movement and body feeling. Pause during a movement, isolation of a body side, performing kata “Ura” and practice with closed eyes are effective here. Balance exercises on one leg, partner strength tests and the often so underrated meditation before and after the workout refine our perception.
Fascia Consciousness: The Solar Sails of the Soul
In regard to extended perception skills the fascia forms a system from toes to head of an elastic fiber network. This network can be experienced for example in meditation and slow motion Karate practice as a kind of elastic dome tent structure within. When this structure is functioning properly, the sense of free flowing energy is experienced: Ki is flowing through the body from toes to head and vice versa. Then in Karate, empty hand and empty mind are filled with universal energy. Deep fulfillment is happening in that very moment beyond the wining of competitions, championships and trophies! The solar sails of the soul are charged with energy, when fascia is working properly.
“Tradition does not mean worshipping the ashes, but passing on the fire”. Gustav Mahler
Author: Punito Michael Aisenpreis, Coach, Therapist and Trainer in Munich and Murnau, Martial Arts and Meditation Teacher. Shotokan Karate since 1975, currently 4. Dan JKA and DJKB Trainer. Ki Aikido with Koichi Tohei, 3 years living in an Ashram in India. Regular Karate training in Japan with Andre Bertel and the JKA. Fascia therapy since 1981. Founding of the German Society for Myofascial Release e.V. in 1994.
Bodhidharma Karate Dojo Murnau, teaches Karate and fascia seminars.
This article was first published in Germany in the DJKB magazine.