When you want to get good at anything, it’s always best to go to the source. When that anything is shotokan karate, the first source that comes to mind is anyone with the surname Funakoshi.
Enter Kyle Funakoshi, a martial arts instructor based in Milpitas, California. He grew up in Hawaii, where he started training in shotokan techniques when he was 5. His sensei was his father, Kenneth Funakoshi, a man who’s no stranger to the pages of Black Belt — he appeared on the cover of the June 1992 issue.
Kyle Funakoshi and his family moved to San Jose, California, 24 years ago so they could administer their association’s many dojo from a more centralized location. Since then, they’ve built a reputation for offering the highest-quality instruction in the Japanese art.
More than 31 years of practicing shotokan techniques and participating in national and international competition have brought Kyle Funakoshi to where he is today — seventh-degree black belt. Ask him why he’s dedicated his life to the understanding and practice of shotokan techniques, and he’ll humbly hint that he wants to carry on the tradition of the art’s founder, Gichin Funakoshi — his fifth cousin.
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Black Belt arranged for Kyle Funakoshi to drop by for an interview and photo shoot to help readers better understand advanced strategies for better shotokan techniques. He immediately started explaining what could have been a complicated subject, breaking it down into terms and concepts anybody can comprehend.
“Some of the factors involved are rhythm and timing, not only of your techniques but also your opponent’s so he doesn’t know when you’ll attack,” he said. “When he’s unsure of when you’ll strike, that opens up his body to you.”
Those two sentences marked the beginning of what amounted to a private lesson on enhancements for shotokan techniques with Kyle Funakoshi.
Instantly Improve Your Shotokan Techniques Through Rhythm and Timing
“There are all sorts of rhythm,” Kyle Funakoshi explained. “There’s natural rhythm, in which you’re not moving. There’s a rhythm in which you’re pressing your opponent. There’s a rhythm in which you’re doing a yori ashi, or sliding back and forth.
“Whenever you have an opponent in front of you, that changes rhythm again because both of you are moving — especially when he throws a fake, or when you do and he reacts to it.”
One of the most common manifestations of rhythm can be seen when two taekwondo stylists face each other and begin to bounce. Kyle Funakoshi said such a tactic is valid but using it requires caution.
“There are many ways to use rhythm in your kamae, or fighting stance,” Kyle explained in his breakdown of training for improved shotokan techniques. “One could be you’re stationary and pressing your opponent. Another is you’re bouncing to get your own rhythm. You might be bouncing up and down or forward and back. If you bounce too high, you can be timed and hit with a reverse punch, front kick or side thrust. If you move forward and back, you have to be careful of the distance. If you bounce too far, it can leave you open to attack or telegraph your intentions. You have to find the distance that’s just right for your body.”
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Just Starting to Seek Improvement in Your Shotokan Techniques?
If you are a beginner with this method of enhancing your shotokan techniques, be extra careful or you risk exhausting yourself before you even engage your opponent. “If you bounce too much or move inefficiently, you will tire yourself out and be ineffective, and it will be harder to throw the technique,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “Everybody’s bounce is different; it has to be adjusted to your body.”
Blast from the past: “Back in the old days, they didn’t bounce around at all,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “They had a more macho way of fighting. They would take their kamae stance and just press each other. There were no feints. Whoever was the strongest would win. A lot of it was intimidation. You didn’t show any emotion; you just came straight in and threw your technique, which was usually a strong reverse punch.”
Shotokan Techniques Then and Now: Why Has Kumite Changed So Much?
“There’s more timing involved because of the point system,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “It’s not just about scoring a killing blow anymore. Because karate is a sport, there’s more emphasis on speed and timing. You move around more in the kamae stance before and after you attack because you don’t want to be stationary.”
Like most things in life, that trend is both good and bad, he said. “It’s good because it attracts attention to the art and brings people in. And if people just train in the dojo without competing, they can get burned out. It’s better if they have a chance to use their techniques in a controlled environment such as a tournament.”
Timing goes hand in hand with rhythm when executing shotokan techniques, Kyle Funakoshi added. “If you aren’t comfortable with your own rhythm, it will adversely affect your timing. You won’t be able to time when your opponent will attack, and you won’t be able to time yourself. That means you can’t throw a feint effectively.”
In Part 2, Kyle Funakoshi explores how your shotokan techniques can benefit from the understanding and practice of feinting and baiting.
About the Author:
Robert W. Young is the executive editor of Black Belt.