What is Chinkuchi? チンクチって何だろう？
Up to now I have attempted to provide the information and explanation of two Okinawan karate terms; Muchimi and Gamaku. My explanation covered the meaning of those foreign words and the basic mechanism of the techniques. We have found that these techniques can be found in the Shotokan teaching even though those terms may not be used. Today, we will look at the last term, Chinkuchi and together investigate if it is a mysterious technique and if it is totally foreign to shotokan teaching.
(from 1987 Dec issue of Black Belt magazine)
I have already mentioned that Chinkuchi is also an Okinawan word. In fact, this word sounds strange even for a non Okinawan Japanese. This word is written in kanji as “一寸力” or “寸力” and this may give us a hint to help us understand the meaning of it. The kanji “寸” designates the length of one inch or simply a short length of distance. A combination of 一 and 寸 can literally mean one inch. When it is pronounced as “chotto” ちょっと then it means a short distance or time. And “力” means power or energy. Thus the literal meaning of these kanji combination is one inch energy or small motion power. Now, isn’t it getting interesting?
Now that you learned what this term means we will need to look into how this technique is executed. According to Goju-ryu and Shorin-ryu, Chinkuchi is described as a “go-tai-jutsu” 剛体術 which means a technique of tensing the body muscles. One achieves this by tensing some muscles and the tendons around some particular joints namely the elbows, shoulders and hips. This technique or training method is considered as extremely important among the Okinawan styles. Chinkuchi technique is emphasized in almost all Okinawan styles but it is stressed more among the Naha-te group including Uechi-ryu and Goju-ryu. When the Naha-te style practitioners train with Sanchin kata they frequently emphasize on applying chinkuchi in almost all techniques in this kata.
Let me quote what Higaonna Morio, a well known Goju-ryu master as he describes this technique.
“Chinkuchi is the tension or stability of the joints in the body for a firm stance, a powerful punch, or a strong block. When punching or blocking, the joints of the body are momentarily locked for an instant and concentration is focused on the point of contact; the stance is made firm by locking the joints of the lower body (the ankles, the knees and the hips) and by gripping the floor with the feet. Accordingly, a rapid free-flowing movement is suddenly stopped for a very short instant, on striking or blocking, as power is transferred. The tension must be released immediately for the next movement.”
By now, many readers might have said in their mind, “Hey this sounds like our Kime.” Is Chinkuchi the same as Kime or different? It’s a very interesting question, indeed, so let’s investigate further and see if we can find the answer.
Another important fact we must remember is that chinkuchi is used often with muchimi and gamaku techniques. When it is used with muchimi, chinkuchi is used as an accelerator though the action itself is to tense and to stop a motion. Yes, it can be confusing so let’s think of a whip as it will help you understand. Imagine that you are holding a loose whip in your hand and you need to understand that this loose whip is a concept for muchimi. In order to crack this whip you know that you need to swing your hand very quickly from the back of you and toward the front. And what is important next is that you need to stop the motion very quickly or snap your wrist. This action is chinkuchi except you do this with your shoulder joint using the shoulder blade. For the gamaku use, chinkuchi is used in the lower abdominal area to provide the firm and stable stance as well as the core tension in the hip/waist region.
I have mentioned earlier that go-tai-jutsu is to tense the muscles particularly around the joints (elbows, shoulders and hips) in order to solidify the body. There seems to be two major purposes of chinkuchi. One is for the tensed body to receive the impacts from a punch or a kick from an opponent. The other one is to contribute greater power to the techniques that one is delivering. The first one is probably easier for us to understand as it is something we naturally do. We often experience that our body naturally tenses up when we get hit. Think of a situation like bumping into a stranger in a busy subway station or on a city street, I am sure that you understand what I am referring to. The challenge is most likely with the second one which will require further explanation. Supposedly, if you could achieve both techniques it would be a perfect solution to both defending and attacking strategy.
We need to investigate further just how Chinkuchi can be achieved. To attain the chinkuchi power, I have already mentioned that the entire body of a practitioner must be tensed and the whole body must become one solid object (go-tai-jutsu). By doing this the weight of the whole body can be transferred to the contact point such as the punching fist, resulting in a more destructive power. This almost sounds like the explanation of kime in shotokan. Therefore, I suspect, the shotokan practitioners will not have any confusion or doubts about the explanation up to this point.
Let us go deeper into the chinkuchi application. The application at the shoulders is frequently emphasized for chinkuchi, however, the application at the hip area, namely the intestinal lumbar muscles is also required. We can relate to this concept as the Shotokan teaching emphasizes the importance of Seika tanden for making a kime. Once a practitioner becomes expert in the application of chinkuchi in the comprehensive manner, he can generate a great amount of power with a minimum or a small movement. This is the reason why this technique was named chinkuchi, small movement power. Understanding chinkuchi can provide an answer to a mysterious shotokan technique of hip vibration.
Now we understand that there are two main joints where the practitioners must learn to develop or acquire the chinkuchi techniques. One is around the shoulder and the arm pit region. The other one is in the hip region. This concept should make sense to all of us as it is obvious that these two areas must be tight and locked in. Without that the body will not be solid and it will fail to provide the solid foundation when one punches or blocks. When we watch the chinkuchi application and its training by the Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu practitioners, we can easily see that they are used for defense purposes.
Take a look at this video in which Sanchin kata is performed.
In the video you can see the sensei is smashing all over the practitioner’s body but most of his hits are around the shoulder and the hip/upper thigh areas. By this exercise, the practitioners are taught to bring the shoulders down at the same time tighten the inner muscles of the lower abdominal area and the upper thighs to create a solid stance and a good foundation. I suppose you would understand the objective here. By tensing all the muscles of the body one becomes like a solid statue and consequently one can receive the hard punches and the kicks without feeling much pain. In Uechi the practitioners do this with open hands (photo above) so the movements may not look as stiff or rigid as does the Goju practitioners who use the closed fists (photo below).
This concept of using go-tai-jutsu for a defense tactic may be foreign to the shotokan practitioner. I must note that this concept was rejected by Master Funakoshi for the following reasons. His belief was not to receive any punches or kicks to our body as we were to consider the opponent’s fist and foot as a sword. He also rejected sanchin kata and its training method, especially training half naked. As Okinawa is a sub tropical region it was (and still is) common to see many men living without a shirt. However, in mainland Japan, particularly in Tokyo where he migrated is further up north and being half naked was and is considered as being impolite or uncultured.
I would like to share a small funny story with you. Let me begin by saying that this story is not meant to degrade or ridicule Goju-ryu in any way but only to share an impression we, the beginners had. This is a story of more than 50 years ago, I was only 15 years old at that time. Anyway, when I started karate I joined two different dojos; Shotokan and Goju-ryu. I did this so that I could practice karate every day without knowing the grave consequence it could bring, but that is not what I want to share with you. What is funny is that I remember clearly that we, the beginners at the Goju dojo, used to joke about the name of our style, Goju-ryu. The emphasis in our training was mainly on tension, go-tai-jutsu and making power and not much on flexibility. Our impression of Goju techniques was definitely on the hardness or the toughness so we had no problem with the first kanji of “go” 剛, hard or tough. What we joked about was with the second kanji, “ju” 柔which means soft or flexible. We did not see any “Ju” in our training at all so we used to say a different kanji for ju would fit better. We picked 十 which means ten or total, thus this Goju-ryu meant “totally” (or 100%) hard style. We also picked another kanji, 重 which means heavy, so this Goju-ryu would mean hard and heavy style. I am not sure if it is funny to the readers but we thought it was funny at the time.
Let us continue with the explanation of the body mechanism of chinkuchi. When you punch you are expected to tighten the trapezoids and the deltoids. The purpose of this action is, an important point, to accelerate the initial speed of the punch. In other words it is like an initial explosion of gun power to shoot a bullet. Now it may be a little puzzling and you may wonder how his action can possibly accelerate the initial speed of a punch. However, the idea is simple, by tensing only the trapezoids and the deltoids and keeping the other muscles around the shoulder relaxed you can achieve an excellent explosive power and speed. It may be rather easy to describe the concept but I am sure you agree that executing it is not so easy or simple. This technique is said to be extremely important for a short distant fighting situation as it enables a powerful punch. If you are a snapshot practitioner I am sure you have an experience of uncomfortable distance for a punch when your opponent is very close. The distance in which you cannot fully extend your arm is that uncomfortable distance. You sort of have to stop the punch otherwise your fist would “go through” the opponent head or mid section. It is true that we have ura zuki (inverted punch) for the distance like this but we do not use this technique often so our fist tends to rotate then what happens? Your shoulder gets raised and maybe your elbow is also. The arm will look like you are throwing a mawashi uchi (roundhouse punch) but that is only how the arm will look. The power will not be there because you will have to stop the punch “pre-maturely”, otherwise you will punch through the opponent’s head. Now here is an interesting photo (above). This is young Mas Oyama punching a makiwara. I found it interesting because the form of his punching arm looks like what I was explaining above, particularly notice that his elbow is not fully extended at the time of impact. Oyama practiced Goju-ryu so I assume he is using Chinkuchi technique to generate power. If you observe the choku zuki by the goju-ryu or uechi-ryu practitioners you will notice the similar arm finish. In other words, despite it is a full straight punch their elbow is not fully extended (photo right). Maybe, goju-ryu practitioners can confirm this or advise me if my assumption on the relationship between chinkuchi and the choku zuki arm.
Now let’s look at exactly where the technique of chinkuchi is executed. Chinkuchi is typically described as the technique involving the shoulder area, particularly with the scapula or the shoulder blades. The frequent practice the Naha-te practitioners do is to move the shoulder blades in and out to increase the mobility and the flexibility. The quick mobility of the shoulder blade is needed to enable the initial acceleration of a technique. It will act like an initial gun powder charge for a bullet. Many people still worship Bruce Lee (1940 – 1973) and after more than 40 years after his passing there exist some fanatics or “The believers”. Though a true martial artist will agree with me, I may receive some hate mail from them for my comments here. I give him a lot of credit for making Asian martial arts popular and he was a great actor. However, by having reviewed his actions that are not in the movies (as the filmed actions can be altered easily) I do not agree that he was a kung fu master. He performed or demonstrated his techniques in a few tournament occasions (the most notable one was in Long Beach CA in 1967). It is true that he impressed the audience greatly with his “One Inch Punch” demonstration. No matter how many times I review the video, it certainly was more like a five inch “push” than a one inch punch. By looking at the photo here (photo above) you can see that his upper body was leaning forward, his hips were left behind and his left foot lost the connection to the ground. You can see the punch is coming from the right shoulder. In a real one inch punch you need to use the hip power so you would not (or need not) lean forward like he did. He also turned his body side ways so he could push. If it was a true one inch punch technique you would be able to do this easier if you were facing straight in front. He made the demonstration spectacular by strategically positioning a chair right behind his partner (see the same photo above) so the poor guy had to fall backward dramatically. Without this chair he would have just taken a few steps backward which would not have been too impressive. In addition, the audience had never seen any technique whether it was a one inch punch or five inch push so they were easily impressed. I have demonstrated a punch that is closer to a one inch punch. Though it may not be a perfect one, you can see it at one of the Karate Coaching video classes and compare the techniques. Anyway, another thing I give a credit to Lee is his excellent physical conditioning. He was known to have a big ego and as a professional actor he tuned his body, obviously, to show it off on the screen. Consequently, the excellent physical condition must have helped his martial arts actions. He not only developed his muscles but he also worked on his shoulder blades mobility (see the photo right).
One other important part of the body that is needed to complete a chinkuchi technique is seika tanden (lower abdominal) area. In fact it includes all the inner muscles called the intestinal lumber muscles (illustration below) and the quadratus lumborum muscles.
We have already discussed the importance of these muscle groups in the article of gamaku and muchimi. Here is what is important about the technique of chinkuchi. The starting point of a punching technique does not reside in the shoulder area though the chinkuchi technique in the shoulder is important. The true start comes from the legs with the proper chinkuchi technique to both stabilize the stance and to send the power to the upper body. This movement is very subtle and often times invisible which is quite different from a very visible motion of a typical shotokan hip rotation found in gyaku zuki. Yes, the hip rotation of gyaku zuki also generates power to the reverse punch. So there is nothing wrong with a hip rotation but I feel there is an over emphasis of its importance in Shotokan training. The biggest handicap of a hip rotation is the time it takes to make a full hip rotation. In a bujutsu fighting the quickness in generating power is important. Thus, when the shotokan practitioners advance they are exposed to another technique called hip vibration which is very similar to the concept of chinkuchi. Unfortunately, not too much explanation and training are done in a normal shotokan dojo training.
The important thing is that being able to perform chinkuchi is, surprisingly, not a high level technique. Almost everyone can tense their body but the challenge comes only when you wish to be skillful enough to control it so that you can tense and relax the certain muscles at your own will, and to be able to tense only the specific area or areas of your body. You can say to yourself that you have mastered the skill if you are able to combine chinkuchi in a peaceful harmony with gamaku and muchimi.
In order to maximize the efficiency or performance of our body motions, the Okinawan masters created these techniques to accelerate and/or modify the “natural” movements. We learned this when we studied on Muchimi and Gamaku. But these techniques are not stand alone techniques. They must be applied in conjunction with the main technique that is called Chinkuchi to increase the effectiveness of a technique. In other words, you need to have a good chinkuchi to have an effective gamaku or muchimi. Even if you could develop good gamaku you cannot have an invisible leg if it is not used with correct chinkuchi. The same with muchimi and chinkuchi relationship.
Now that you learned about Chinkuchi, what do you think? Was this something new to you? Though this term and the other two terms might be new to the shotokan practitioners, the concepts are probably not so foreign. I believe that similar concepts and the techniques were handed down to the Shotokan (at least the Asai group) instructors.
My understanding of chinkuchi came from the understanding of shotokan techniques and teachings I received from my senseis. I would like to receive the feedback from the Okinawan style practitioners as I wish to find if my understanding of chinkuchi is correct or not. I am always open to the constructive criticism and an opportunity to learn from other styles.
As a bonus I will add some video clips here. They explain the Chinkuchi moves and training (sorry only in Japanese) which I hope will be interesting.
松林流 新里勝彦先生ピンアン初段 ＃１
Shinzato sensei #1
Goju ryu Chinkuchi training