Physical and Psychological Conditioning

Club Logo Karate utilizes both the physical and the psychological aspects of a person's makeup.

If we compare the body to an automobile, we can illustrate this concept. An automobile is a machine. Its mechanical components must be present and it must have periodic maintenance (tune-ups) in order to function efficiently. This would be the physical aspect.

However, no matter how new the parts or well tuned the engine is, if there is no fuel or the wrong fuel, the machine will either not operate at all, or will not operate at peak efficiency. This could be correlated to the psychological aspects of karate.

The psychological aspect is what motivates and the physical is what activates the marvelous machine known as the human body.

Physical Aspects


The physical aspects of karate can be broken down into speed and power, muscle co-ordination, focus, control, kiai, response, and conditioning. We will define each of these and how we apply it to the study of karate in the following sections.

Speed and Power

In Karate a technique must be executed quickly in order to be effective. Not only does it cut down on the opponent's ability to respond, but the speed is transferred into striking force. At the moment of impact, this striking force is equal to the mass times the square of its speed.

Another basic form of power is "reaction-force". For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. This law of physics is demonstrated when we execute a right reverse punch. Our left hand is retracted in the opposite direction in order to generate power.

Muscle Coordination

Muscle coordination is vital to the concentration and focus of power. If a muscle reacts at the wrong time or directly against another, the effectiveness of the movement is lost. It is imperative for full concentration of power that muscles function in the proper order and that every muscle capable of directly adding power to the movement is used.

In coordination, the hip and shoulder muscles should move first. They are stronger but function slower. The hand and foot muscles, faster but weaker, should come into play last. The strike is more effective if the extremities are completely relaxed until just prior to contact.


Focus is one of the physical components of concentration. In other words, focus could be said to be the aiming and firing of the body's maximum power created by concentration. The focus-point is the common center of the maximum power exerted. This point lasts only a split-second and cannot be held, even if tried. To clearly understand focus, compare it to a bullet. Once a bullet has been aimed and fired, it has been spent. If the bullet misses its target, it cannot return or hold active.


Control is a word closely linked to focus. Control means to focus short. In brief, the focus point when controlled is just short of the target.


Proper breath control is very important in all karate applications. Not only does it play a role psychologically, but physically as well. With breath exhaled, the karate-ka (karate student) has better muscle control, coordination, and definitely more speed, balance, and power. It could be said that the kiai is a bridge between the upper and lower body of the practitioner. In other words, it tightens the mid-section to to create stability in the upper body and to aid in the transfer of power from the hips and legs.

You should also realize that when breath is inhaled, the body becomes weaker. If a person is struck with full lungs, the strike will more than double its damage. With this in mind, you should try to strike when your opponent's lungs are expanded. If noise acccompanies the kiai, usually an opponent or adversary will inhale due to fear caused by the element of surprise.

Your kiai should begin with the contraction of the lower stomach muscles and progress upwards. Simultaneously the lung muscles should contract, abruptly forcing the breath out through the mouth in one burst. You should then inhale immediately (through the nose) to admit oxygen for the body.


Response in karate is a complex , precise, reflex action. In other words, it short circuits reaction time. Reaction time is the time spent to see, think, and then react. Responding eliminates the think factor to produce the reaction that the situation demands.

This is accomplished by setting up situations during practice and reacting with the same technique over and over. Response time can be honed to a point where it seems mystical to the novice.


This aspect of karate is the developing of the body's stamina, agility, endurance, and natural weapons to their ultimate performances. The first three can be done through an exercise program. The fourth however, requires patience and years of development. The process is similar to that of the body builder. Tear down body tissue, let it grow back larger and stronger. It is recommended that you start with soft padding and very little concentration of power until you have familiarized yourself with the process - perhaps striking into the padding with the fist only once or twice a day. If you try to excel too rapidly, you will do more harm than good.

The main objective is the development of the bone tissue and the hardening of surface skin tissue. After tearing down these tissues, be sure to allow ample time for the body to revive itself or your objective is defeated.

Psychological Aspects

The psychological aspects of karate that must not be overlooked are attitude, confidence, concentration, and meditation. For a brief description of how we apply these concepts to karate, see below.


This is the attitude that all Karate-kas (students of karate) should exhibit: We are all human beings existing among others and striving for a peaceful co-existence.

A physical confrontation is a no-win situation, whether you "win" or "lose". Once a student has attained a certain level he becomes aware of his physical capabilities. This knowledge will usually govern his decision-making. A true karate-ka will try to avoid any situation which might lead to a physical encounter. This is done by not patronizing establishments where trouble can be found or setting conditions which might cause it to come to him.

However, if you find yourself in an unavoidable situation, an exhibition of self-confidence may stop the aggressor. More often than not, a karate-ka can avoid an active situation by merely walking away. If his attitude is properly balanced, he can do so without the loss of self-esteem. From training, he knows his capabilities and does not have to prove anything to himself or anyone else.

If a situation is definitely unavoidable you must defend yourself. While trying to avoid a situation, do not allow yourself to be caught unprepared or unable to defend yourself on your own terms (i.e. do not let yourself get backed into a position that cannot be adequately defended). Under actual fighting conditions you should try to remain as calm as possible. Be in a state of constant observation; do not focus your concentration on any one person or place. Always be aware that an attack could come from any direction.

Positive Attitude

A positive attitude should always be utilized by a practitioner. Any uncertainty as to the effectiveness of a technique or to your own performance and ability when executing, could end in failure.

If you have any doubts, find out if they are because of the technique or if it is doubting your ability to properly execute. If it is because the technique does not suit you personally, omit it. If the problem is within yourself study the aspects of Confidence and Meditation for a deeper understanding.


Confidence can govern the power of a strike and the speed of a response. A karate-ka should be confident in himself and his system in order to excel.

The presence of self-confidence will usually cause an adversary to think twice. This is also true in your everyday life. Always exhibit a positive attitude - a positive attitude will build confidence and eliminate the fear of being hurt.


Concentration is bringing all the power that the human body can exert to a common center. Concentration is the utilization of the other aspects of karate. To accomplish complete concentration, all other thoughts must be omitted from the mind. The subconscious mind can govern the speed and power of a movement without the conscious knowledge of the mind.

Lack of confidence can infect and undermine your ability to concentrate. These undesirable thoughts can be eliminated through use of meditation. Use meditative techniques to develop an understanding of why you think this way; then work to overcome this self-doubt.

The body's physical condition can also work against complete concentration. Be sure your physical needs are satisfied (i.e hunger). Once you are at ease both physically and mentally, complete concentration can be attained.


When meditating, a student must utilize complete concentration . Concentration here does not refer to a psychosomatic condition, as the Aspect of Concentration, but to the focusing of all thought to a common mental center.

To meditate a student must weigh and consider his thoughts; weigh their importance, and consider their benefits vs. their detriments. If a thought is wrong, it must be omitted. Visualize yourself attaining your goals and utilize Reasoning.

Reasoning is an aspect of Meditation. Reasoning is the employing of rational thinking to conceive the most suitable and desired thought and then to repeat this new thought to the conscious mind until the subconscious adopts it, and substitutes it for the undesired thought pattern.

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