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When is a hip not a hip? - When it's a koshi!

Posted Nov 26 2009 10:03pm
Every martial artist comes to understand the importance of 'hips' in the execution of punches, kicks and throws. It is drilled into us virtually every training session: 'rotate the hips!', or 'make your belt swing!'.

However, when I 'rotate' my 'hips' I do not experience the required effects. I do not 'transmit' the power from my legs to my upper body. In fact 'rotating' my 'hips' seems to have a negative effect on my technique - it seems to cut my body in two, severing the connection between my legs and my upper body? It often unbalances me, particularly when I turn direction during a kata. I have been told that my torso sometimes looks 'wobbly' and that I sometimes 'over rotate' the hips.

This may just be a coordination problem - but on the whole I am well coordinated so I'm not sure that's the problem. It may be that I lack strength in the hip region - that's a possibility. The other possibility is that I have misinterpreted what is meant by a 'hip twist'.

When I watch others execute techniques with 'hip twist' I am sometimes a little puzzled by what exactly it is they are twisting - they may be turning or thrusting the lower torso region, but 'twisting' or 'rotating' the hips? Not in my interpretation of 'twisting the hips'. However, they are doing it correctly and I am doing it wrong - so my interpretation must be wrong. Watch this video of Kagawasensei executing a gyakuzuki:

The movement he generates in his torso involves a unified rotation of his body from just below the chest to the middle of his thighs - this was not what I interpret as hips!

Then I read something in a book called Traditions by David Lowry. In this book there is a short chapter called 'Move from the hips'. He recounts an incident in his class one day when he was encouraging his students to 'move from your hips'. After the class a group of female students approached and told him that his concept of 'hips' was not only a Japanese-influenced one but also a male one!

Women generally consider the hips to specifically be the area right around the widest part of the buttocks. Whereas for men the hips include all the buttocks and the waist as well. However, for the Japanese hips ( koshi ) means a wider area still, one that includes every part of the trunk from the bottom of the buttocks right up into the abdomen.

After I read this a light turned on! I have been considering my hips from a female perspective, rather than a male or Japanese perspective. I've been twisting my hips like I'm dancing to Chubby Checker! No wonder I am unstable and not transmitting power correctly. I might have guessed I'd need to think like a man on this one.

David Lowry puts forwards 2 maxims for how the koshi should be used in martial arts:

1. All movement must originate with the hips, i.e the hips must precede all action. The koshi must be kept firm and tight whereas the limbs can be left relaxed. Maintaining a firm koshi takes the 'slack' out of the stance and permits movement without a wasted 'wind up' first. Moving the hips first unifies the body allowing all other muscles to work in harmony.

2. Power must be delivered through the hips directly to the target. For example, when doing an oi- zuki (stepping through punch), from the starting stance, right through the step to the punch, the koshi should be exactly the same height from the floor. The hips move in a straight, horizontal line so that no power is lost or misdirected.

Now that I know that my hips is not just my hips and that this whole koshi region should be kept tense; that movement should precede all action and deliver power directly to the target, the above video of Kagawasensei makes a lot more sense to me now.

I think I now have enough understanding of this hip twist thing to start training in a different way , then, may be I will stop wobbling and unbalancing myself!

If you are an instructor and you are teaching your students about hip rotation please make sure they know exactly what you mean by 'hips' - it could save a lot of confusion!

Reference: Traditions, Essays on the Japanese Martial Arts and Ways, Dave Lowry 2002.Tuttle publishing.

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