Monday, April 05, 2010

Shomenate - direct but not straight

In karate we drilled from day one that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. We were taught to strike in a straight line from where your fist is to where the target is. Today I am reading a historical boxing manual, which includes an elegant chapter on "hitting straight." And this got me to thinking about shomenate.
In a some ways, you can consider shomenate ro be roughly the aikido equivalent of the boxing jab, but it does not go straight from the initial position to the target.
In the basic kata form, starting from arms relaxed at sides, the wrists pull back and the unbendable arm swings up to the opponent's face (or to parry the lead arm). The palm is not travelling straight to the target, but is describing a slight arc. It would be possible to train aikidoka to follow a straighter path in shomenate, but there are benefits to the way it is done - benefits that would be lost if we were to mimic the boxing jab more closely.
  • Fast enough: The path in shomenate is sufficiently straight that the difference in time between the straight path and the curved path is miniscule.
  • Simpler: The way we do shomenate only requires we coordinate the use of one joint - the shoulder. A straight-path palm jab would require us to coordinate bending and straightening of the elbow as well as the shoulder.  Doubling the complexity of the motor skill would increase learning time and reduce reliability.
  • Stronger: By only using the shoulder muscles to lift the arm into shomenate, we are restricting the muscle activity to larger, more centrally-located muscles. The straight palm jab would shift part of that load to smaller, more distal muscles of the arm.
So, although shomenate is not technically the shortest path, it is close enough to straight for our purposes. I guess you could call it a direct strike rather than a straight one.
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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