Punch with your Elbows

Goju, Vancouver, BC, Lessons, Karate, Kobudo, Martial Arts, Miyagi Tatsuhiko
Miyagi Tatsuhiko

I was first introduced to Miyagi Tatsuhiko sensei in 2008 through my good friend and fellow Karateka Fred Lohse. Some of you may know that Miyagi sensei is the assistant instructor of the Ryushinkaikan in Kagoshima city and a student of the late Sakai Ryugo.

Every year I travel to Japan to visit my teachers and on this 2008 trip I stopped over in Kagaoshima to train at the Ryushinkaikan. It’s an easy layover for me as I usually catch the plane in Kagoshima to go to Amami where I train Kobudo with Yoshimura sensei. Fred had warned me that finding the dojo the first time out is not an easy task even when taking a taxi, so I made sure to leave early in order to meet Miyagi sensei at are scheduled time. I’m glad I heeded Fred’s advice as the driver did have a very hard time finding the dojo. As an aside, if you’re wondering why it may have been so difficult, watch this TED talk video on how houses are organized in Japan to get an idea of why it was challenging to find an address.

At my first visit and subsequent visits, Miyagi sensei critiques everything – warm-up exercises, basics, kata, kumite, everything. He never critiques with a harsh word, but with a note of encouragement and a smile or laugh; he’s very genuine that way and wants you to improve.

Like his teacher, Sakai Ryugo, Miyagi sensei’s use of his body is amazing and reflects the principles of strength (Go) and flexibility (Ju). He seems to have inherited his teacher’s punching power – a combination of iron wrapped in silk. I remember the late Anthony Mirakian sensei telling me that Sakai had the strongest punch of any Karateka he’d encountered.

One thing that Miyagi sensei said to me at my first visit and subsequent visits was, “Punch with your elbow” (肘で突く). Yes, I understand Japanese quite well but the first time he said this to me I was baffled; clueless even. “Punch with my elbow? What the hell does that mean?”  Not being the smartest Karateka it took quite a bit of thinking and practice before I clued in. I’m sure a younger Karateka would have gotten it right off the mark, but not me.

So, what did Miyagi sensei mean when he said to, “Punch with your elbow”? After a lot of thinking, practice, and time it dawned on me – I told you I wasn’t the brightest bulb. It meant to focus on driving the punch with my elbow instead of thinking about another part of my arm. So, in my mind I imagined that I didn’t have forearms or hands when punching. Yes, I know this sounds weird, but it worked for me. When I concentrated on driving with my elbow when I punched I noticed that I was able to engage the larger muscles of my back more with less reliance on the shoulder. It was one of those fantastic little tips that greatly improved my Karate-do and I’m sure your own teachers and mentors have shared similar tips (kuden) with you.

Good training.