Hard and Soft – Important in Kettlebell and Budo Practice

The form of kettlebell practice that I follow is based on the RKC system of Pavel Tsatsouline (our guest is Episode 10 of The Applied Karate Show). The RKC system is commonly regarded as a hard style of strength and conditioning practice, which utilises the Russian kettlebell. Leading RKC proponent and instructor, Mark Reifkindhas put together a very interesting post on his blog regarding The Soft Side of Hardstyle

And while the hardstyle of generating force( segmented body segments.compensatory acceleration techniques and an explosive mindset) is the predominant concept in the ballistic lifts one thing seems to be forgotten when this way of swinging is talked about: that for each high force hip snap there is a concommittent relaxed stretched phase that preceeded it and will preceed the next high power rep

This is an excellent post, and provides very useful principles for both kettlebell practice, but also for karate practice.

Whilst karate is generally regarded as a hard style martial art, it is a true-ism that the hard cannot exist without the soft, and that in order to generate maximum power (hardness), we need to be able to focus and generate power through the use of relaxation and dynamic tension as two sides to the same coin. Rif continues:

Just like Okinawan karate moves, the goal is to focus all one’s power into one very fast, concentrated movement that create as much force and as possible

Younger practitioners of karate often try to make everything hard. They try to exert maximum tension into every technique, yet if you can’t relax dynamically you won’t be able to do that. Speed cannot be generated while muscles are tensed, and power can’t be generated without speed.

One of the key pieces in the Okinawa karate bible, The Bubishi, was a line that reads “Ho Wa Go Ju O Donto Su”. This translates to something along the lines of “hard and soft is the foundation of the method”, and reminds us that we must explore both hard and soft. Master Chojun Miyagi thought this line imoprtant enough that he named his style of karate as “Goju” ryu – the school of hard and soft.

Another important maxim that reminds of the importance of this balance is contained in one of the “5 Principles of Kata”, which reads “chikara no kyojaku”reminds us to practice with both strong power and passive power (relaxation).

Practicing hardness and softness in your technique is an important reason why it is not productive for a karateka to practice their techniques only to the air. You have to hit something, and be able to hit hard. This is where the use of tools like bogu (protective equipment), makiwara (striking posts), punching bags, focus mits and so on come in. Its also why karateka like to break things, using the techniques of tameshiwari.

The practice of kettlebells for me is not just about developing strength and burning fat. Its also very much about refinement and further building of the same type of power that I need to support my karate practice.

True power can only be achieved through a balance of tension (strength) and relaxation. Focus on these things, and you will find your techniques can improve dramatically.

Rifs Blog: The soft side of hardstyle..

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