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The three core elements of karate are kihon, kata and kumite.

19 Apr 2023

Part 1 - Kihon (基本, きほん) is the Japanese term meaning "basics" or "fundamentals." 

This section includes the key:

1. Blocks - Uke

2. Strikes - Tsuki

3. Kicks - Geri

4. Stances - Daichi

If you are beginning your karate journey, don't feel overwhelmed by all of the new terms and techniques....everything will form clearly and simply time and practise; and don't hesitate to ask a class mate or instructor for advice, we've all been there before.

The practice and mastery of kihon is the foundation of karate, and includes  correct body shape, stance and breathing. Kihon is also the student fostering the correct spirit and attitude at all times. It becomes a fundamental discipline of karate. Kihon techniques are practiced often, in many cases during each class.

The goal is to have automatic or instant reflexive responses to the many situations that occur in karate, or in real-life, so you can react well-enough to defend yourself. 

Kihon in martial arts is the same as basic skills in any other sport, where practice makes perfect and skills become automatic.

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1. Blocks - Uke

Uke means "receive." In karate, uke refers to blocking techniques, to defend against attack and avoid being hit and usually precede a counter-attack.

Uke can be divided into 4 categories:

a. Basic Closed-Hand Blocks     

The most common block, executed with a swinging motion of the arm (up, down, either side) with the fists closed. The point of contact is either the inner or outer forearm, usually closer to the wrist area. Since the entire length of the forearm can be used, they have a much greater safety margin. Therefore, they are the safest blocks to use, especially for a beginner.

Age-uke - rising block

Soto-uke - outside block

Gedan-barai - downward block (lower level sweep) 

uchi-uke -  inside block

b. Open-Hand Blocks       

Open-hand blocks are performed with the edge or back of the hand. Usually, open-hand blocks are followed by some form of grabbing with the blocking hand, pulling the opponent off balance, followed by a counter-attack. In many cases, they are delivered as attacks instead of blocks.

Shuto-uke knife-hand block (sword-hand block)

Tateshuto-uke - vertical knife-hand block

Kake -uke - hooking block

Haishu-uke - backhand block

Tsukami-uke (koko-uke) grasping block (tiger-mouth block)

c. Advanced Blocks       

Often found in kata, advanced blocks usually have the option of being executed with the hand open or closed. 

Haiwan-uke - back-arm block

Nagashi-uke - flowing block

Osae-uke - pressing block

Sukui-uke - scooping block 

Maki-otoshi-uke - rolling dropping block

d. Double-Hand Blocks       

Blocks using both hands are usually only practiced in kata. They are often a single-hand block with the other hand touching or supporting it, for situations when more force is necessary. They can also consist of two different single-hand blocks performed at the same time, to block two separate opponents or attacks. Additionally, two of the same blocks can be delivered at the same time to achieve a synergistic effect, usually occurring in advanced bunkai

Morote-uke double-hand block

Kosa-uke (juji-uke)  cross block (X-block)

Kakiwake-uke - wedge block (separating block)

Manji-uke - manji symbol block (swirling block, vortex block)

Bo-uke - staff block 

Awase-uke - combined block

Hasami-uke - scissors block

Oshi-uke - pushing block

kosa-uke* - crossing block (inside block & down block)

2. Strikes - zuki/tsuki

In karate, tsuki is the term used for punches. Punching techniques are used often because they are quick, powerful, and versatile. These attacks are mostly delivered with the front two knuckles of the fist, called seiken (fore-fist). Tsuki can also refer to spear-hand attacks and techniques performed with the fore-knuckles of the fist. Punching techniques (using the seiken) are the most common attack form in karate. More importantly, punches keep the hands in a very solid and stable position that is capable of withstanding impact. Tsuki can be divided into 5 categories:

a) Basic Punches       

All basic punches are linear, requiring full extension of the arm. These punches have the longest range and tend to be the most powerful. Basic punches are easy to learn and simple to use. They are the most used attack form in karate. 

Choku-zuki - straight punch

Oi-zuki -  lunge punch

Gyaku-zuki - reverse punch

Kisami-zuki -  jab punch

b) Advanced Punches       

Advanced punches are usually, but not always, non-linear.  Many of these punches have the elbow bent at various angles. Although generally not as strong as basic punches, they are more suitable for close range combat. Advanced punches can also be very useful in working around an opponent's guard. 

Ura-zuki - inverted punch

Age-zuki (tsukiage) - rising punch

Kage-zuki - hook punch

Mawashi-zuki - roundhouse punch

Tate-zuki - vertical punch

Uke-zuki - blocking punch

c) Double-Hand Punches       

Double-hand punches are performed with both hands at the same time. Contrary to what one might think, double-hand punches are not as strong as single-hand punches. It is more difficult to coordinate power in both hands at the same time. These movements also have a much smaller hip rotation. Their obvious benefit is that two targets can be hit at the same time, although double-hand punches are almost never used as an offensive attack. More often, they are used in response to an attack, usually with one of the punches acting in a defensive manner. Double-hand punches are frequently used to achieve sen no sen.

Morote-zuki  - inverted punch

Yama-zuki - rising punch

Yumi-zuki  - hook punch

Awase-zuki  - roundhouse punch

Heiko-zuki  - vertical punch

Hasami-zuki - blocking punch


d) Fore-knuckle Punches       

Fore-knuckle punches are performed with the middle knuckles of the fingers. Since the point of contact is smaller, these techniques can achieve greater penetration of force (the same amount of force is used on a smaller surface area, creating greater pound-force per-square-inch {PSI). The danger in using these attacks occurs in the joints of the fingers. These techniques are most effective against small targets or soft vital areas, reducing the risk of injury to the hand. The fingers and knuckles should be properly conditioned before ever considering using them on solid targets.

Ippon-ken - one-knuckle fist 

Nakadaka-ippon-ken - middle finger one-knuckle fist

Hiraken -  flat fist

e) Spear-Hand        

Spear-hand techniques, called nukite, involve a thrusting motion with the tips of the fingers, providing great potential for penetration of force (PSI). Again, although the force behind these techniques can be quite devastating, the risk of breaking the hand is also high. To use these techniques in a real situation, the hands must be well trained. 

Ippon-nukite - one-finger spear-handt

Nihon-nukite - two finger spear-hand

Tate-nukite (shihon-nukite) - vertical spear-hand (four finger spear-hand )

Hira-nukite (shihon-nukite) - flat spear-hand (four finger spear-hand)


3. Kicks - Geri

Kicking techniques are generally more powerful than hand techniques with the key advantage of a greater attack range. However, kicking does have its drawbacks. Since the leg is bulkier than the arm, kicks tend to be a little slower. Also when kicking, the foot usually has to travel a further distance to reach its target, again sacrificing speed. Finally, kicks leave the karateka on only one leg, compromising balance. For these reasons, punches tend to be viewed more favourably in Shotokan. 

Geri can be divided into 4 categories:

a) Basic Kicks       

Basic kicks  are standard and are practiced almost every class, and learned at the beginning of one's training. They have simple simple and are excellent to build balance and flexibility.

Mae-geri - front kick

Yoko-geri-keage -  side snap kick 

Yoko-geri-kekomi - side thrust kick

Mawashi-geri -  roundhouse kick

b) Advanced Kicks       

These kicks can be both dangerous and deceptive. They require excellent speed, timing, balance and flexibility to perform well.

Ushiro-geri - back kick

Ura-mawashi-geri - reverse round house kick

Mikazuki-geri - crescent (moon) kick

Tobi-geri - jump kick

c) Advanced Leg Attacks       

These advanced techniques are executed with the foot, but are usually not considered as kicks in the conventional sense. They are mainly used to damage an opponent's legs or to break an assailant's balance. All targets for these attacks are below hip level (gedan).

Fumi-komi - thrusting step (stomping kick)

Ashi-barai -  foot sweep 

Nami-gaeshi (nami-ashi-geri) - returning wave (wave-leg kick)

d) Non-Traditional Kicks       

These kicks are not typically mainstream Shotokan. Many of these kicks are  difficult to control and can cause injury in class or competition or to yourself.  They are not found in Shotokan kata or traditional kumite and, therefore, are not really considered as part of the modern Shotokan system.

Ushiro-ura-mawashi-geri - spinning back reverse roundhouse kick

Ura-mikazuki-geri -  reverse (inside) crescent kick

Kage-geri -  hook kick 

Otoshi-kakato-geri - dropping heel kick (axe kick / hammer kick)

Tsumasaki-geri -  tip of toes kick

Sune-geri - shin kick 

Kin-geri -  groin kick

Naname-geri  oblique kick

4. Tachi/Dachi (Stances)

Stances can be considered the most important element of kihon. A stance is very much like the foundation of a house of which karate is built on. Stances were designed to lower one's center of gravity and thus improve stability. Without a solid stance, an individual cannot deliver a technique with maximum power, and one can easily be taken off balance. Shotokan stances usually tend to be longer and deeper than other styles of karate. 

Dachi can be divided into 4 categories:

a) Outer Tension Stances       

Outer tension stances involve a slight outward pressure of the knees and thighs. They require deep bending of the knees and therefore have the lowest center of gravity. Since these stances are very low, practice is exhaustive on the leg muscles, thus making it an ideal training for these muscles. Outer tension stances are usually used in conjunction with large movements or long and medium range combat techniques. "Hard styles" of karate (like Shotokan) tend to practice these stances a great deal more than the other stances.

zenkutsu-dachi - front/forward stance

kokutsu-dachi -  back stance

kiba-dachi -  horse stance (horse-riding stance)

fudo-dachi (sochin-dachi) - immoveable stance 

shiko-dachi - (strength & calm stance) square stance

b) Inner Tension Stances       

Inner tension stances require an inward pressure of the knees and thighs, and have a higher center of gravity. Although easier on the legs, the positions of the feet and knees can be quite awkward, hence these stances are usually more difficult to master. Since the focus of these stances is inward, they are ideal for developing ki, one's inner energy.  Inner tension stances are considered as more advanced stances and are usually practiced in combination with smaller techniques that can be used in short range or close combat.                

hangetsu-dachi - half-moon stance

sanchin-dachi -  hourglass stance (3 wars stance)

nekoashi-dachi - cat stance (cat-leg stance)

c) Natural Stances       

Natural stances, or shizen tai (natural body), include all of the stances performed from natural positions. These stances maintain the body's centre of gravity at its usual level, requiring little or no tension in the legs or bending of the knees. As such, they are quickly and easily learned. Natural stances are used when bowing, resting, retreating, and joint locking. They are also often used when awaiting an attack since an individual is most likely going to be in some form of a natural position if ever attacked.  

Hachiji-dachi - figure of 8 stance

Uchi-hachiji-dachi - inward natural stance

Musubi-dachi - attention stance (united stance)

Heisoku-dachi - feet together stance (closed feet stance)

Renoji-dachi - L-stance (shape of re stance)

Teinoji-dachi - T-stance (shape of tei stance)

Heiko-dachi - parallel stance

d) Unstable Stances       

Unstable stances can leave the individual in a precarious position, often unbalanced.  They are usually performed either on one leg or with both feet very close together. These stances have very specific functions related to bunkai (application or kata training) and are not designed to be maintained for long periods of time. However, since these stances are unstable, they require a great deal of balance and are often practiced to help individuals to improve overall stability and coordination.

Ashi dachi - leg stance

Tsuru-dachi (sagiashi-dachi) - crane stance (crane-leg stance)

Kosa-dachi - cross stance

Hizakutsu-dachi -  knee bending stance 

Hiza-dachi - one knee stance

*Please note that in a compound word, where tachi does not come first, its pronunciation and writing change slightly, becoming dachi.