Chinkuchi may have
been responsible for Tatsuo Shimabuku's incredible ability
to drive a nail into a block of wood with his fist (above).
face beams and his eyes sparkle when he recalls to his his students
how legendary isshin-ryu karate founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku could
drive a sixpenny nail through a two-by-four with a shuto
(knife-hand), hammerfist, or even the heel of his foot.
With expressions of awe and amazement, the students question
Advincula as to how this was possible for a man barely five
feet tall, and weighing only 125 pounds. Advincula explains
that Shimabuku was able to perform these feats because he understood
and used the power of chinkuchi (pronounced chin-coo-chee, and
meaning sinew, bone, and energy).
What is this mysterious chinkuchi? Advincula, who often
heard Shimabuku use the term when he trained with the late master
on Okinawa, claims chinkuchi probably originated in China and
was later brought to Okinawa, as was much in the way of Chinese
martial arts and culture. Normally, Shimabuku would use
the term when explaining and demonstrating sanchin kata
(isshin-ryu's dynamic-tension breathing form), but he also
used it as other times, including during kumite (free fighting)
According to Advincula, Shimabuku would frequently state that
judo practioners didn't understand chinkuchi, but that kendo
(way of the sword) stylists did. Shimabuku clarified this
statement by demonstrating with a bokken (wooden sword), saying
that one not only strikes down and in simultaneously, eliminating
unnecessary follow-through and thus maintaining proper balance.
This results in focused, controlled energy specifically where
it is needed.
Advincula claims chinkuchi is not absolutely essential to your
karate training, but if you desire maximum efficiency, it is
One of the best examples of chinkuchi at work can be found in
isshin-ryu's sanchin kata. Shimabuku used sanchin as a
tool to develop tremendous internal energy (ki) that
can be generated through proper breath control and body management.
To fully understand chinkuchi, however, you must also understand
a few important components of Okinawan karate that constitute
its makeup. These are: ki, control, and centering.
Chinkuchi can be any or all of these components, working together
or alone to culminate in tremendous, controlled energy.
or Chi (Chinese)
Ki is an essential ingredient in chinkuchi, because without
bursting energy, punching, kicking and blocking techniques are
weak and ineffective.
Ki is an instantaneous burst of energy, generated in the center
of the torso by proper body manipulation. It is similar
to a sudden burst of electrical current.
Shimabuku taught that ki was used not only for punching and
kicking, but could also be summoned to any part of the body
for focusing or blocking a technique. For example, if
an assailant were to strike your arm with a club, maximum energy
could be brought to the arm a split second before impact, protecting
it form the blow. Shimabuku stressed that high-level isshin-ryu
stylists could bring maximum energy to any part of the
body it was needed. This theory is in contrast to Okinawan
goju-ryu practioners, who emphasize that energy should be evenly
distributed throughout the body at all times, as one is never
certain where a blow might land.
Another example of chinkuchi is demonstrated in sanchin kata
as performed by goju-ryu stylists. In goju, the thighs
are deliberately brought close together and tightened, using
dynamic tension to protect the groin from rising kicks.
However, as stated, goju stylists are also noted for being able
to simultaneously produce equal amounts of energy throughout
the rest of the body.
Isshin-ryu founder Tatsuo
Shimabuku testing Sensei Advincula's sanchin stance.
is another important aspect of ki which is important to remember:
it can be used against you! And not just in aikido, as
some think. According to Advincula, karate stylists can
also use an opponent's energy or ki to advantage. One
example is found in goju-ryu, where the ju (soft) techniques
are emphasized, such as circular blocks that flow with an opponent's
people believe Okinawan karate emphasizes force against force,
but Advincula claims this is merely an illusion. Although
younger instructors many times emphasize strength, often utilizing
devices and weights to enhance the upper body, older instructors
usually stress softer techniques. The tensho kata
of goju-ryu is a perfect example of a breathing form which emphasizes
a softer approach, and it is very popular among older students.
Proper control of punches and kicks is paramount in the martial
arts because uncontrolled techniques drastically affect an individual's
balance, leaving one open and vulnerable to attack.
Shimabuku used the term chinkuchi when demonstrating control.
For instance, he would have a student thrust a fist slowly but
firmly against the palm of his hand. Suddenly, Shimabuku
would release the resistance and usually the student would lurch
forward. Shimabuku would then exclaim in broken English
"No chinkuchi, no chinkuchi." In other words, he student
didn't have control of his technique.
In the united States, it is common to see tournament fighters
throw wild, inaccurate spinning kicks, their bodies turning
almost completely around. In other instances, competitors
can be observed falling against the ropes or onto the floor
after having failed to execute a technique. By contrast,
rarely does one see a contestant overextend or go wildly out
of control after missing a punch or kick in tournament bouts
conducted on Okinawa. Why? Because chinkuchi is
used in many styles of Okinawan karate, such as, goju-ryu, kempo,
isshin-ryu, and many branches of shorin-ryu.
Shimabuku also demonstrated chinkuchi by emphasizing to his
students the rising punch and kick, not only because they are
more powerful, but also because they are easily more controlled.
In other words, they allow the practioner to establish better
chinkuchi. As Advincula tells his students, it is impossible
to "fall up".
Thus, chinkuchi is simply maintaining proper balance and control,
at the same time, while generating bursting energy (ki)
which culminates in energy focus (kime). To Shimabuku,
chinkuchi meant controlled energy, which is produced when needed.
Shimabuku put a great deal of emphasis on "centering" -- the
ability to deliberately and instantly place all of one's energy
directly beneath the navel. This results in one being
completely balanced and almost immovable.
Advincula claims it is extremely difficult for anyone to use
your ki against you if you understand the concept of centering.
Centering is best described as all energy or tension concentrated
on a spot near the center of the body. This spot is called
the tanden, and is located approximately two inches below
the navel. Centering is the process of simultaneously
forcing energy from the feet, up the legs, into the abdomen,
as well as forcing energy from the neck and shoulders down through
the body to collect in the tanden. This results in the
body being well balanced and quite immovable. You are
therefore able to control your ki and keep it from being used
is the essence of isshin-ryu," Advincula says. "The entire
system is built around it." This is illustrated in sanchin
kata, which is practiced to cultivate and control ki through
proper breathing methods.
he feels proper balance, coupled with maximum energy, is the
key to victory, Advincula stresses chinkuchi when teaching self-defense
and close-combat fighting. "Disrupt your opponent's ki,
and you have won the battle," Advincula states. If you
control not only your chinkuchi, but also that of your
opponent, you control your destiny."
About the author: Robert
B. Safreed is a Cypress, California-based freelance writer and
martial artist who trained in Okinawa under isshin-ryu karate
founder Tatsuo Shimabuku.