Flexibility is a physicalattribute that can improve one’s performance in karate if developed correctly.Anatomical flexibility can refer to the range of movement of a particularjoint, and the length of the muscles surrounding it. If a person’s joints are specificallyflexible, that person may be able to move freely without restriction. Flexibilitymay be specific to a region of the body. In karate, flexibility can provideseveral benefits as well as some disadvantages, which can be avoided if aperson stretches properly. Stretching is a valuable method to strengthenmuscles and develop flexibility.
By engaging in a range ofphysical activities, such as karate training, a person’s mobility is increased.This means that certain moves can stretch, strengthen and enhance certainmuscle groups and therefore increase the flexibility in those regions. Thisincrease in flexibility comes with repetition of those movements. If a personwere to practise the forward stance, zenkutsudachi, they would find that their leg muscles should gain strength and thattheir knees and ankles would gain flexibility, and therefore enable them toattain a lower and deeper stance. This would improve the said person’s kata and basic technical training.
Another advantage thatflexibility provides to a karate-ka is the variation in targets available. Forexample, an increase in flexibility in the hips would allow a person to kickhigher, to jodan level, whenperforming the front snap-kick, mae geri.This example is applicable to a range of kicks. Similarly, if flexibility isdeveloped in other regions, the relevant techniques using those body parts canbe enhanced and developed further, with the newfound range of movement. Thisincrease in mobility can provide other benefits, in karate and in general, includingfaster reaction times, a reduced chance of muscle injury, using less energy inmotion and discovering a variety of targets, and their relevant techniques, thatwere previously inaccessible.
However, flexibility can alsohave some drawbacks too. There are a range of unwanted implications that canalter a person’s performance in karate due to flexibility. Although a flexibleperson (in this instance meaning one who can kick at jodan height) may find that they have a wide target range forkicking, they may lack the precision and accuracy of another person who is lessflexible, but will consistently kick at a target which they can manage.Similarly, the person who kicks at the same height each time will also havevery measured and concise stance lengths. Another issue which a flexibleperson may face is the tendency to substitute a proper technique with anincorrect technique that still reaches the target. An example of this would bethe round-house kick, mawashi geri,where a particularly flexible person may kick and reach their opponent’s temple,the target, with their foot, as usual; however, the target would be reachedbecause the said flexible person could perform an excessive rotation of theirankle, without rotating their hip as required. Although the person performedthe kick and reached the target, the technique was incorrect, and therefore superfluous(extra…). The main issue which flexiblepeople may face in karate is the lack of muscle strength to support the extensivemovement of the limbs.
This can be seen where a person who can do the ‘splits’aims to kick very high, but is unable to hold the position and falls over dueto instability. People who are over-flexible, or hyper-flexible, have a higherrisk of injuring themselves whilst training by pulling a muscle, fatigue orinstability. Flexibility must be attained in way that develops muscle strengthand increases the range of motion around a joint simultaneously andconsistently.
Stretching is the most common,safe and advisable way to develop flexibility. Different types of stretching canbe used for specific purposes. In the interest