Flexibility is a physical
attribute that can improve one’s performance in karate if developed correctly.
Anatomical flexibility can refer to the range of movement of a particular
joint, and the length of the muscles surrounding it. If a person’s joints are specifically
flexible, that person may be able to move freely without restriction. Flexibility
may be specific to a region of the body. In karate, flexibility can provide
several benefits as well as some disadvantages, which can be avoided if a
person stretches properly. Stretching is a valuable method to strengthen
muscles and develop flexibility.
By engaging in a range of
physical activities, such as karate training, a person’s mobility is increased.
This means that certain moves can stretch, strengthen and enhance certain
muscle groups and therefore increase the flexibility in those regions. This
increase in flexibility comes with repetition of those movements. If a person
were to practise the forward stance, zenkutsu
dachi, they would find that their leg muscles should gain strength and that
their knees and ankles would gain flexibility, and therefore enable them to
attain a lower and deeper stance. This would improve the said person’s kata and basic technical training.
Another advantage that
flexibility provides to a karate-ka is the variation in targets available. For
example, an increase in flexibility in the hips would allow a person to kick
higher, to jodan level, when
performing the front snap-kick, mae geri.
This example is applicable to a range of kicks. Similarly, if flexibility is
developed in other regions, the relevant techniques using those body parts can
be enhanced and developed further, with the newfound range of movement. This
increase in mobility can provide other benefits, in karate and in general, including
faster reaction times, a reduced chance of muscle injury, using less energy in
motion and discovering a variety of targets, and their relevant techniques, that
were previously inaccessible.
However, flexibility can also
have some drawbacks too. There are a range of unwanted implications that can
alter a person’s performance in karate due to flexibility. Although a flexible
person (in this instance meaning one who can kick at jodan height) may find that they have a wide target range for
kicking, they may lack the precision and accuracy of another person who is less
flexible, but will consistently kick at a target which they can manage.
Similarly, the person who kicks at the same height each time will also have
very measured and concise stance lengths.
Another issue which a flexible
person may face is the tendency to substitute a proper technique with an
incorrect technique that still reaches the target. An example of this would be
the 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 reached
because the said flexible person could perform an excessive rotation of their
ankle, without rotating their hip as required. Although the person performed
the kick and reached the target, the technique was incorrect, and therefore superfluous
The main issue which flexible
people may face in karate is the lack of muscle strength to support the extensive
movement 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 due
to instability. People who are over-flexible, or hyper-flexible, have a higher
risk of injuring themselves whilst training by pulling a muscle, fatigue or
instability. Flexibility must be attained in way that develops muscle strength
and increases the range of motion around a joint simultaneously and
Stretching is the most common,
safe and advisable way to develop flexibility. Different types of stretching can
be used for specific purposes. In the interest