STRIKE AND STRENGTH TECHNIQUES
This past week, the Jungle Book came out in theaters, which means that my son has been singing “The Bear Necessities” pretty much non-stop. So it probably comes as no surprise that this post is all about bears (and karate, of course, since this is a karate blog after all).
In martial arts, many of our techniques are named for the animals that inspired them. One of these is the bear paw strike (also called kuma-di).
This technique is sort of like a “heavy-handed power slap delivered with the heel and palm of hand” usually to an attacker’s face. To execute this strike with power, the body should twist or drop first, and this momentum whips the arm around. [Oneill SJ, 2013, 197] Students will recognize the bear paw as the strike that precedes the sweep in the Okinawan self defense set.
While the ability to land a well-executed strike, like the bear paw, is important in karate, being able to defend against and absorb strikes may be even more crucial. One thing we learn is to make a short yell or show of spirit called a kiai when we are being struck in the abdomen. This helps to tighten the core muscles and expel breath, which creates a barrier to protect internal organs and keeps us from getting our “wind knocked out”, respectively.
Imitating a bear can also help you get a stronger core to help you protect yourself and increase power to your strikes. Adding an exercise called a bear crawl to your abdominal workout can enhance core strength and stability. To perform the bear crawl:
1. Crouch down on all fours (only your toes and hands should touch the floor).
2. Move forward or backward, by moving the opposite arm and leg at the same time.
3. Keep your back as flat and as level as possible while moving.
If you want to take your karate to the next level, you could always channel your inner Baloo and add the bear paw strike and bear crawl exercise to your training.