Posted on: Wed, 01/08/2014 - 22:43 By: Tom Swiss

The word "kime" (決め) comes up often in our karate training. It's usually translated as "focus" or "power", signifying the efficient and coordinated application of muscular strength to create an effective strike.

A person may have a great deal of muscular strength but yet not be able to throw a good punch. Putting together -- in a fraction of a second -- the necessary actions from the feet to the fist is a complex psychomotor skill. We describe such a technique as "clean" or "crisp" or "focused", saying it has kime.

But the literal meaning of kime is a little different. It's the noun form of the verb "kimeru", meaning "to decide". In combat sports it has a connotation of being decisive, something that decides a contest: the same kanji is in kimarite (決まり手), a sumo term for the techniques used to win a match. (Interesting article on these at over at GrappleArts, I think we'll be playing with some of them in class in weeks to come.)

But I think it's interesting to consider all the ways that we engage in the act of deciding when we throw a strike. (Or a throw or sweep or other technique, but I'm karate guy so the punchy-kicky stuff comes to mind first.)

First, we decide that we're in a situation where striking is appropriate. In the dojo this is a simple matter, our sensei says "chudan tsuki!" and we punch the air or a bag, or it's kumite time and the rules allow for some subset of strikes. But out there in "real life", should we ever have to face personal violence, unlocking the safeties is a serious decision.

I'll take as an example one incident from my teenage years. Or maybe I was 20, certainly no older than 21, at the time. To save embarrassment for myself and other involved parties I won't go into details of how the situation reached this point, but at a party with a lot of underage drinking I found myself in a situation where I was standing on the small back porch of a rowhouse, telling several people to leave the premises. One loud and aggressive youngster stepped towards me, arguing and threatening me, and then threw a sucker punch, trying to provoke a fight.

This was, as I say, a long time ago, and I'd like to think that with decades of training since then I wouldn't be suckered today. But he managed to hit me in the mouth.

I had already been training several years by this point, and I'd been hit before. This was nothing. My dog had hit me harder while wrestling. Still, the most obvious thing to do would have been to hit him back. I was confident that one punch would be decisive.

But in the situation, had I done so, there was a good chance that he would have fallen off the porch and into the basement-way, and sustained serious injury from the fall. Visions of cops and legal trouble flashed through my head. So I decided to keep the safeties on, not to engage. I watched for another punch, but didn't otherwise respond as he continued his aggressive display. And when he wound down unable, to get a rise out of me, repeated the demand to leave...and went back inside and put ice on my swelling lip.

If we do decide to take the safeties off, then the next decision is "how hard"? If I'm sparring, I modulate my power depending on my partner and the goal -- is this just lighthearted play, or a promotion test, or a competition? If it's a self-defense situation, what level of force is justified and necessary?

These questions also influence the next decisions: which technique, and what target. The decision of what technique probably comes first, since your body positioning will determine what is available. If my weight is on my right foot, a right kick is out as an immediate option. If my left arm has been grabbed, or if I've just used it to grab my opponent or to block, I might not be able to use it to punch. And of course in a sparring match, some techniques are not legal. In a self-defense situation, some techniques constitute excessive force.

Based on what limbs (or the head, never forget the head butt) are free and their position, some set of targets are available. We pick a target and a method of attack.

And finally, we decide to launch the attack.

But having decided, the decision must be firm. If we decide, "right chudan tsuki to the solar plexus", we can't change our decision in mid-flight, say "oh, geez, I should have gone for the mawashi geri!" When you decide, decide! Commit! We don't want the result Sir Galahad got in a famous bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Kime, then, speaks of a certain resolution. It's similar to the idea of ikken hissatsu (一拳必殺) -- literally, "one fist, certain killing", but more idiomatically it refers to the idea that each technique should be delivered with decisive intent. It's not unusual to see novices perform techniques as if they were asking a question with their bodies. No question marks -- your techniques should be punctuated with exclamation points!

And this time of year, the New Year, is often a time for resolutions. So if you're making one -- decide! Do it! No "maybe". As Yoda said, "Do, or do not. There is no try." (All karate teachers want to be Yoda when we grow up.)

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