An advanced methodology of Fumikomi , the foot stomping technique 「踏み込み足」上級者向け稽古法
For the senior karate practitioners, the fumikomi technique must be very familiar. The readers all know that this technique is found in many of the Shotokan kata including Heian and Tekki. I could choose any of those kata but for this essay, I decided to pick Jion to discuss this subject and I will explain later why.
In Jion (ジオン or 慈恩) kata, the kuro obi practitioners know that it has one interesting sequence of techniques of fumikomi (踏み込み, stomping foot) and chudan uchi otoshi uke (打ち落し受け, drop forearm block, photo below) in the 43rd, 44th and 45th steps.
When I learned this kata more than 40 years ago, I was taught to stomp down and hit the floor as hard as possible with my foot. The bunkai for this combination was the otoshi uke to a chudan oizuki attack and simultaneously you will stomp the opponent’s front foot. Our sensei told us we should imagine that we were a big sumo wrestler when we did this technique. We were to deliver this stomp so that it would almost put our feet through the floor with the impact. I am pretty sure that this is similar to what the readers understand.
Today, I am writing this essay as I need to inform you about this teaching. You may be shocked but this teaching has been incorrect. Incorrect, maybe, is too strong a word so I should use the word “insufficient”. In other words, the standard way in which a stomping technique has been taught all around the world is only for beginners. By beginners, I am not referring to the dan rank or belt level but rather the degree of experience in this technique. What I am saying is that one needs to learn this technique as a strong stomping down on the floor with a big impact. But once again, it is only to learn the movement. Once the practitioners learn the move, they must move to the next level, a better way of delivering this technique.
In fact, you can find fumikomi in Heian Sandan (photo right), Godan, Tekki (photo below left), Jitte (below right), Jion, etc. Understanding the true delivery of this kata is too advanced for the color belt students.
If your instructor knew this technique, he might have shared this knowledge when he taught you Tekki Shodan. If he did not, he probably wanted to wait till you earned your black belt. Understanding how to deliver fumikomi correctly is indeed reserved for the dan rank practitioners.
I could have picked Jitte for this essay as we find a sequence of three fumikomi. However, I find Jion is a better kata to explain fumikomi techniques. Why is it better? It is because fumikomi is delivered with a swinging down arm technique (uchi otoshi waza, photo below left) to emphasize the down motion.
So, you must want to ask, “How do we deliver this technique in a correct way?” Though it may sound contradictory, a short answer is that we need to learn how not to stomp the floor. My statement may sound puzzling to many of the readers. You may even think that this does not seem right. Yes, I am aware of this. It sounded strange to me too when I first learned about it. Believe it or not, it is not too difficult to learn how to deliver this technique mentally. On the other hand, physically doing the technique correctly requires a lot more body management than you can imagine. OK let us go further to understand what this technique is all about.
What we need to do here is to study how this technique is practiced in the forefather of karate, kung fu. It is unfortunate that we have to do this since the deep understanding of this technique has not been taught by most of the traditional karate styles, especially in Shotokan. If you are a fan of Shaolin kung fu, you might have seen the stone block training floor in the temple that shows some dents (photo below left). Yes, these dents came from the repeated stomping by the Shaolin monks who trained there for many years (photo below right).
This technique is called shin-kyaku (震脚) which literally means vibration leg. Of course, it does not mean that the leg itself vibrates but rather it vibrates the floor or the earth like an earthquake by its stomping. This technique, shin-kyaku is found not only in Shaolin style but also in many other kung fu and Tai Chi Chuang styles. There are several different ways to deliver this technique.
One is from the natural stance you raise one leg and then stomp it down (illustration right). The illustration shows the practitioner raises his right arm and leg, in a manner that is similar to that of the technique found in Jion. The difference is the practitioner stomps his right foot next to his left and simultaneously he punches his uraken into his left palm. In Jion, you are familiar that we use kiba dachi and uchi otoshi uke (photo below right). When we compare these techniques of the two different styles, it is very interesting that the preparation mode (raising one arm and the knee up) is very similar. Also, notice how the knees are bent when the technique is completed in the kung fu method (illustration above right). The degree of his bended knee is exactly identical as when we assume kiba dachi. If this kung fu person spreads his feet apart to about twice the width of his natural stance, then he will have a perfect kiba dachi.
Another method of shin-kyaku is done from a longer stance such as zenkutsu or kibadachi and stomp with one leg. An interesting method is the stomping with the rear leg (photo right) which is rather unique. In Shotokan, fumikomi with the rear leg in zenkutsu dachi is not being taught. Even if it starts from zenkutsu dachi, a kiba dachi stance is used at the time of the stomp (Heian Godan, Jutte and Jion). This is an interesting subject but we will not go into this subject in this essay.
Whether a shin-kyaku technique is made with the front leg or the rear leg, as you become familiar with this technique you will be required not to make a stomping sound when you bring your foot down. In other words, the instructor will tell you not to deliver the power downward, but rather to erase it by squeezing the internal muscles in the low tanden area.
In one of the kung fu styles, Pa Gua, they have a technique called Chin tsui kei (沈墜勁, illustration below). As I am not familiar with this style and its technique, I will not go into the details of the technique. However, I wish to share the basic and important concept of the technique which is taught in this style. In essence you bring up the body first then bring it down to generate the power. The technique definitely uses this dropping power to deliver a strong punch (photo below left) or elbow strike (below right). This is no surprise, however this is not the main point. What they teach is that as you drop down you are not to drop all your weight down. I know this statement is not clear and can be puzzling.
Let me explain further. Towards the end of the stomp, right before your foot reaches the floor, you need to generate the upward power (by tightening your inner muscles in your lower torso) so that the impact of your foot will be nullified. Does this make sense?
In other words, you will generate the same amount of power upward by tightening your core muscles within the lower part of your body. That power within your body will work against the stomping leg. Maybe you can think this as putting a braking action to your stomping leg at the very moment of impact. It is like a car. Imagine that you are driving a car. All of a sudden, something jumped in front of your car so you have to use a quick braking action to avoid a collision. Obviously, the challenge of this technique is that you need to put this “brake” on at the last moment and be able to avoid the “collision”.
If you are a senior practitioner, you recognize that this may sound similar as to how you will make kime when you punch. Believe it or not, this technique is managed using the same concept. The difference is that this leg technique is more versatile than the arm technique. You probably have the experience of too long kime with your punch when you were still at junior level. You will be stuck in a posture or a position too long if your arm and body are tensed too long. In a kime situation, you were taught to relax right away so that you can continue to the next technique or step. In the stomping foot technique, when you deliver your weight down without a “brake” two major disadvantages will occur.
One major problem is that you will be stuck in one spot that is called itsuki (居着き) in Japanese and this condition is mostly despised in Japanese budo. We consider itsuki as the gate to defeat or death. The other possible problem is the great reaction impact to your foot at the time of stomping. This negative impact to your stomped foot may cause a serious joint (ankle and knee) problem.
By being able to do this leg braking technique, your body will become “floating” like a hovercraft or an ice skater. This means you are not stuck in one spot after the stomping technique. Rather, you are able to move around very easily in any direction. In other words, this technique enables you to remain move-able and shift-able. In this kung fu style, this condition or status is explained in an analogy; one’s head is being suspended or supported by a string and being pulled up. In other words, you become like a marionette and your body will float like a suspended doll.
Let’s go back to our fumikomi technique. I believe our technique had this similar concept. In fact, in the other Japanese martial arts this technique is called Fuminari (踏鳴). It is usually used in budo with weapons such as kenjutsu but it is also practiced in jujutsu and even sumo (shiko fumi 四股踏み), Believe it or not, it remains as one of the important high level teachings in the Japanese martial arts. It is unfortunate for the modern day karate practitioners that this technique in karate is now interpreted as only a stomping down of the leg action and that the most important concept of the nullifying action is forgotten.
Once you understand this concept and wish to experience the benefits, I suggest that you practice all the kata that have fumikomi technique such as Heian Sandan and Godan, Tekki, Jutte, Jion, etc in the new way. If you have developed strong inner muscles, this technique may not be too difficult to execute correctly. I hope you can feel the difference in your body when the fumikomi technique is done with a last minute brake. I also hope that you will discover the forgotten benefits from executing fumikomi in the higher skill level.