The idea of ‘Kime’ is very widespread in Japanese martial arts like Karate, and is also found in Okinawan and Chinese Martial Arts.
While the term can be translated as ‘intent’ or ‘decision’ the truth is that, most of the time, it’s used to describe that robot-like freezing used all the time in kata and forms.
You know the drill: block, block, punch, freeze. Kick, punch freeze.
And it’s not just Karate… Back when I trained extensively in the Chinese systems – especially Hung Gar and Northern Shaolin – we did the same thing, except instead of ‘kime’ it was called ‘focus.’
Although this robot-like movement
Why Do Many Martial Arts Teach Kime/Focus?
The first reason I was taught is that the reason you freeze at the end of your strike is that it allows you to transfer more power into your target. Sometimes this is even dressed up with fancy terms like ‘efficient transfer of kinetic energy’, which sounds even more impressive.
The problem is that this is pseudoscience and demonstrably not true.
Boxers don’t freeze their punches and nobody punches harder than a boxer…
Thai boxers don’t freeze their kicks and nobody kicks harder than a Thai boxer….
Heck, you don’t freeze your axe when you’re chopping wood, or freeze your hammer when you’re pounding nails with a hammer. Instead you try to hit through the target and let the target itself slow you down.
I was also taught that freezing in your katas and solo practice prevents you from losing your balance after a hard strike, but, again, somehow boxers, Thai boxers and MMA fighters all manage to do just fine without kime.
It’s also been argued that kime is to protect the joints from hyperextending, and here I see a germ of truth. It’s true that you shouldn’t overextend your strikes and allow your elbows and knees to snap all the way straight.
Your muscles should stop your strikes, not your joints.
If you start regularly hyperextending your elbows and knees you’re going to develop some very serious joint problems.
So yes to protecting your joints, but that doesn’t explain why you have to freeze at the end of the move. It’s totally possible to use your muscles to decelerate your strike and then bring your limb back to a fighting position.
If I had to guess, it’s possible that freezing while training is actually a cultural tradition that started in Chinese Kung Fu.
Why? Who knows for sure, but I have some guesses…
Maybe maybe freezing in your Kung Fu forms just looked cool to onlookers and made the practitioners feel badass. That would have made it a cultural signal toughness, the same way that wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorbike signifies toughness in Western culture.
Maybe freezing after every move also made it easier for one instructor to teach a large group class. It’s much easier to walk around and correct everybody’s body position if they’re frozen into place after all.
Or maybe it really was all about protecting the joints in systems where there was usually a ton of solo practice.
From China there’s pretty good evidence that some Southern Kung Fu systems then migrated to Okinawa. And the story of how Karate went from Okinawa to Japan in the early 20th century has been told many times.
The Problems with Kime
One argument I’ve heard many times from traditional martial artists is that kime represents a training method and isn’t how you would actually fight.
As soon as you get into a real fight, the theory goes, of course you would whip your strike out and back.
But the trouble is that training to move in a certain way cuts deep grooves neurologically. In the heat of the moment you react the way you trained. Or, as Archilochus the Greek philosopher said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
There are, in my experience, many problems training to freezing your attacks
Leaving your strike out there makes it possible for your opponent to grab onto your limb, and gives him the opportunity to pull off all kinds of crazy counters that should never work.
Also any time you’re not actually hitting someone your limbs should be back in your fighting stance so that they protect you from the inevitable counter-attack. This is why our strikes should go out at 100 mph out, and then back at 200 mph.
I also believe that training in this manner can often cause people to strike at the surface of a target and not hit through the target.
Now yes, many traditional martial artists do tell their students to focus their strike past the target. But those neurological patterns laid down by doing thousands and thousands of reps are hard to undo.
Kime was the cutting edge of combat for hundreds of years, but we now know better.
The sad truth is that freezing your punch in midair reduces your power, develops bad habits, and makes you less combat effective.
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