A small mystery about Ochi Sensei 越智先生のミステリー
Here is a small mystery about Hideo Ochi. He was born in 1940 so he was 70 years old in the following video which was taken in 2010 at the at ISKF summer camp in Pennsylvania.
Here is the photo of him doing the body crunch exercise in front of a large group of black belts. This exercise starts by laying flat on your back and lifting your feet and head up. This exercise is known to work and strengthen your belly muscles (rectus abdominis), the large muscle group that is commonly called “six packs” when built up. This exercise is similar to the very popular exercise of sit ups. However, the body crunch can be much harder if you have to keep your feet up in the air as Ochi sensei made the group do. He was smiling and kept on doing the exercise into 40 or maybe 50 reps. The video showed that many of the black belts gave up in the middle and laid there flat. I am not sure if any of them could follow Ochi sensei and complete all the counts.
So he was 70 years old then and with this exercise he out-did all the black belts who were much younger. I saw a comment below the Youtube video, “he is more fit than all of us combined”. This person was correct that Ochi sensei was very fit. Does he do sit ups and body crunches every day to build his six packs? I could be wrong but I doubt he does. He does not need to do these exercises to do many sit ups and body crunches. If I am right then how does he do them? This is the true mystery and I know the secret. I will share what I know and it will solve this small mystery.
The answer is very simple. Ochi sensei is not using his six packs or the rectus abdominis. The readers will surely object to this statement. The readers are correct. Ochi sensei is using his rectus abdominis, indeed, but only to keep his upper body up but not to lift his legs up. In fact, he was using other muscles to keep his body up which I will explain later. Then, how was he lifting his legs? He was using his leg muscles! I can almost hear the second objection from the readers. The muscles found in the leg region are used not only for walking and running but also for balancing your body when you are standing up. They also do something that is very familiar to us, karateka. They lift up our leg for kicking or some times for jumping.
As there are so many different muscles in the leg region, let me tell you specifically which muscle groups I am referring to. Many people know the big leg muscles that are found in the front of the thighs (the rectus femoris) and the muscles in the back commonly known as hamstrings (the biceps femoris). However, I am not referring to these muscle groups. There are at least two other muscle groups that Ochi sensei used. They are the rectus femoris (illustration below right) that ties between the pelvis to the thigh bone (femur) and the sartorius that ties the pelvis to the shin bone (tibia). In fact, the sartorius (illustration below left) is, believe it or not, the longest muscle group. These muscles are used for the activity that is very familiar to us, kicking. By using them you can lift your knee up when you do mae geri. Of course, you can lift your knee up and kick mae geri without using these muscles but rather by using the outer muscles previously mentioned such as the rectus femoris. However, the professional karateka and the experts use not only those outer muscles but also the inner muscles. This is why their kicks are faster and stronger. Ochi sensei was known to have a strong and fast mae geri. I am sure he developed these inner muscles during the many years of his karate training when he was young. The inner muscles are important but they are difficult to train separately due to their locations. Most of the weight lifting exercises work on the outer muscles. You could work on the inner muscles if you practice your kick with an iron geta or weighted shoes. There are other specific methods to work on the inner muscles but I will not delve into that subject in this article. What I want to share here is that I suspect that Ochi sensei has developed strong inner muscles that tie between the pelvis and the thigh bones through many years of hard karate training. As the inner muscles retain the strength longer than the outer muscles, despite Ochi sensei being 70 years old his inner muscles were still strong and useful in the exercise to lift the legs up.
I realized the importance of these inner muscles more than 15 years ago and trained them specifically. Now, without training in doing sit ups, I can do it 200 or 300 sit ups without much effort. I can do 100 body crunches easily and even with a smiling face like Ochi sensei. When I do the sit up exercise in a seminar, I usually ask them to do 200 times with me. I tell them to relax the belly muscles and instead use the leg muscles. They all think I am joking but I am not. I am asking them to use those inner muscles. In addition to using the inner muscles I give them another hint that will help them do more sit ups and help them relax the belly muscles. If you are interested in this hint, I encourage you to participate in one of the seminars I hold around the world.
Earlier in this article I mentioned that Ochi sensei was using other muscles to keep his upper body up (other than the six packs). Since you are a smart reader you probably guessed that there were some inner muscles in the belly region. You are correct. In fact to keep his upper body lifted , what he was using mostly were the inner muscles that connect the thigh bones to the pelvis and the lower spine. These muscles are found in the hip region between the upper body and the legs (see the illustrations below).
Believe it or not, there are many important inner muscles in this region (we call it “hara” 腹). All those inner muscles are important but I will mention the two most important ones. They are the iliacus muscle (illustration g) that tie the upper part of femur (thigh bone) to the pelvis. The other is the psoas major that tie the femur to the lower spine (illustration f). There are other important inner muscles such as psoas minor and others but we will not go too deeply into the anatomy in this article. By seeing the illustration above, you can easily see that by tightening these muscles you can raise your upper body and they do not get tired as fast as when you depend only on the six packs. So they are perfect for the long repetition of body crunches. I suspect that Ochi sensei has developed these inner muscles both in the leg and the “hara” regions through many years of karate training. If you live in Germany, please ask him if he did many deep squats (either in kiba dachi or shiko dachi) and possibly bunny hop exercises when he was young. I bet you 1000 Euro that he did those exercises extensively when he was in his prime. He may still be doing them (though more lightly) even now. Those exercises are often discouraged these days as some claim the exercises may harm the knees. I agree that they would hurt if you start doing many of them from the start and when you are not used to these moves and exercises. Once you learn how to use the inner muscles, you can do 200 or 300 deep squats without stopping. I also do this in some of my seminars and teach the participants how to do them correctly. If you do them correctly then your legs will not be sore in the following day. I also teach them how to breathe correctly. So, let me add a small surprise about Ochi sensei. Do you know why he was smiling? Yes, he is a nice guy and he was enjoying the exercise or the participants looked funny. There is something not too many people know or realize that his smile helped his exercise, at least in two different ways. One is he keeps his mouth open for the correct breathing. The other is to keep his upper body relaxed and not to have his six packs tensed. By smiling he can relax his muscles around his neck and the upper body which will not only help his breathing but also be able to control his inner muscles. I do not know if Ochi sensei was doing those actions knowingly or almost subconsciously. Once one has reached an expert level, they are able to do these “unbelievable” feats without thinking. I hope Ochi sensei will not get upset that I have disclosed all of his “secrets”. He may say my hypothesis or assumptions are all wrong (to protect his “secrets”). All I can say is that I can repeat what he did (I am referring only to the body crunches) at the age of 68.