Bowing, showing respect, treating customers like kings, showing kindness and generosity. These attributes are synonymous with the Japanese culture.

So is being fearful (Shinpai), obeying the rules (kyōjun), dying from working overtime (Karōshi), sleeping on public transport (Inemuri) and locking yourself in a room for the rest of your life (Hikikomori).

In the martial arts there is another trend which i’ve noticed the Japanese have a penchant for.

Philosophy summed up in such few words.

  • Shin Gi Tai
  • Ken Zen Ichi Nyo
  • Bun Bu Ryo Do
  • Yo Ryu Bi
  • Karate Ni Sente Nashi
  • Kihon, Kumite, Kata
  • Ikken hissatsu

Sure I understand that the use of characters over actual words goes a long way in explaining and describing more with less, but it is still pretty neat.

Point is, have you heard of the phrase used as a concept in traditional Japanese arts like poetry, Noh theatre, tea ceremony and …. the martial arts?

I am talking about Jo Ha Kyuu (序破急)

Jo - 序 - To start slowly.  Ha - 破 - To build up speed.  Kyuu - 急 - To finish suddenly.

This concept originated from the courtly Gagaku music, a style that has been used in the Imperial Court of Kyoto for several centuries and has its roots in China. Jo-Ha-Kyuu is a way of distinguishing and describing the elements in the music.

I’m sure if you listen to any piece of music now, Japanese or otherwise, you will hear this concept at play.

In Japan it was eventually incorporated into other disciplines which the great Noh playwright Zeami later analysed and discussed the concept as being universal and applying to the movement of all things.

Personally, I only recognised this concept, although at the time i didn’t know how to describe it, whilst I was in Okinawa.

You see, Sensei Akamine was trying to teach me the timing of my hips in my Kime when using the Bo.

With his hands on my hips he would let me swing in a downward 45 degree arc and at the last minute would shake my hips before I executed, and then quickly released, my kime.

I can tell you, I never practiced this movement in Shotokan, but once I got it (after 2 months of practice) everything fitted into place.

For 20 years I was taught that in Karate you start motionless, then all of a sudden accelerate at 100% towards the target, then stop.

You use the hips to swing the motion out quickly and then the full body muscle contraction to finish.

Simple right. Many understand and can execute this from 1st Kyu, allbiet with the need for further refinement in technique… and the usual need to relax more.

But this is not Jo Ha Kyuu.

Now you might argue that we do this already, in Kata; especially in Competitions.

Competitors are often seen executing slow and fast movements to make the performance more interesting.

But this is a very simple application of Jo Ha Kyuu.

My point is, it should be in everything. In each fast and the slow movement.

But not just for the beauty, also for the application.

When you step, when you kick, punch, perform uke and swing a Bo.


Not only does it look good, but it is also more effective.

(Sorry for making you spit your coffee all over your computer)

Let me explain.

Let’s take executing a punch.

In “traditional” Japanese Karate you go from 0 to 100 to the target. The idea being that Force = Mass x Acceleration.

So the faster the Acceleration of Mass the greater the Force of impact.

So you should be Accelerating that punch as fast as you can.

But many people mistake speed for acceleration.

How fast you can punch at the point of impact does not necessarily mean you are still accelerating.

When you use the hip to start the movement your fist is being thrown only as fast as you can throw your hip, so what you get is a burst of acceleration, followed by the fist traveling at speed.

Now let me explain another way of moving.

With your fist in chamber, you begin the movement by using only the arm towards the target (this is still done fast), and near the point of impact you throw the hip which then rapidly accelerates your fist.

Ka. Boom.

You have now used more of your body in the movement.

Instead of relying on the hips, you are using the arm and the hips.

Get that power moving from the ground up and you have a devastating blow.

The hardest part here is timing. Kankyu - 緩急. Which is a key element, and the hardest to master for all martial arts.

Follow me?

Here is an analogy I like to use.

If you fire a gun when standing still the bullet travels at 1,700 MPH (Damn, that’s fast!!)

Now imagine you are on a train, let’s say the Bullet Train in Japan, and you fire the gun.

The train is going at a top speed of 200 MPH, and the bullet still comes out of the gun at 1,700 MPH, so the total speed of the bullet is now 1,900 MPH.

Whilst the bullet was in the gun it was already going the same speed as the train.

Of course, relative to the train it wasn’t moving.

This is another reason why the hikite is so important in a strike - pulling the opponent into a moving fist essentially doubles the acceleration of impact.

Remember those physics equations trying to work out the total force of impact if two cars hit each other at speed?

If not, go look it up, it will probably get you driving safer!

I do not endorse testing my analogy

I do not endorse testing my analogy

Ok, so trains and bullets. Fists and hips.

In this analogy, your arm is the train, your hips are the gun, and your fist is the bullet.

If you get your arm moving first, and as fast as you can, when you initiate the hips you have far more acceleration being used at the end of the movement.

Don’t believe me. Then let’s look at the physics of throwing a ball and swinging a club or bat.

When throwing a ball, in cricket or baseball for instance, the aim is to get to maximum speed before letting the ball fly.

To do this you need to maximise the acceleration pretty quickly so that the ball is going at maximum speed when you let it go, which is usually at the midway point of the movement, allowing your arm to then decelerate towards the end.

If you watch a few slow motion videos you'll see the wind up where the ball gets moving before the rest of the body is engaged to then accelerate the ball.

In Cricket they run, in Baseball they throw out their front leg.

In swinging a bat or golf club again you are attempting to reach maximum acceleration at the midway point where you will be hitting the ball.

In all these examples, even when kicking a football, the hips are moving as the target is being struck.

So why would we even consider having the hips stop before we have even reached the target.

In Karate, however, you’re probably unlikely to be striking your opponent at the midway point of movement. That would result in still having a very bent elbow and therefore no engagement of the shoulder muscles on impact.

Of course we are not striking opponents right at the end of the movement either, but fairly close.

Why else would you need to practice range?

We are taught to follow through on the punch, to help with the inevitable deceleration in our striking.

But I pose to you this, with correct timing, and the use of the hips AFTER we initiate the arm, we can MAXIMISE the acceleration in the movement.

Why did I say all this?

Because of Jo Ha Kyuu. A universal concept in all movement, and one which if you practice you too will feel the full potential of your strikes.

Kudos if you are able to do a double hip movement. One to throw the arm, and one to increase the acceleration towards the end of the movement. Now that takes some serious Kankyu.

How best to test this? Makiwara of course.