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This web page contains the personal observations and opinions of the main author of this website. The content of this web page does not come directly from Sensei Malcolm Fisher.
I have only hazy memories of Malcolm Fisher from the 1970s when I trained at the Tsuruoka main dojo in Toronto. I was out of karate for almost all of the 1980s. I next encountered Malcolm Fisher in the 1990s when he was the dominant heavy weight competitor in Karate Ontario competition. At that time I was a novice Karate Ontario official.
Everybody knew that Malcolm was big, strong and fast. However, what differentiated me from other observers was that I recognized that Malcolm was exceptionally fast because he had optimized his techniques in ways beyond the normal Shotokan curriculum and that part of Malcolm's apparent strength and speed came from superior positioning. His superior positioning comes from a highly analytical approach to karate. For example, in kumite Malcolm knows with a high degree of certainty exactly what an opponent is going to do even before the opponent does. Using that foreknowledge Malcolm positions his body, legs and feet for an explosive high energy counter attack that is difficult for his opponent to avoid.
Malcolm has analyzed virtually every technique in karate. He has discarded a wide range of techniques that will not reliably work in a real confrontation. He has optimized those techniques that will reliably work. The result is Fisher Shotokan.
ORIGIN OF FISHER SHOTOKAN:
Fisher Shotokan is a systematic departure from JKA Shotokan. Fisher Shotokan optimizes Shotokan techniques for maximum energy delivery to the target within a 0.5 second time interval. Fisher Shotokan incorporates into Shotokan the rapid turning and energy accumulation techniques used by elite figure skaters. The authority for the superiority of a Fisher Shotokan technique lies not in traditional martial arts dogma but in proper application of the laws of physics.
I was first impressed by the successful application of Fisher Shotokan in karate tournaments. Then one day Malcolm Fisher explained to me his use of force vectors for optimum foot positioning. In a flash I understood what he was trying to explain, because I am an expert in vector related mathematics. Up until that moment I had never thought of optimizing karate using mathematical techniques.
Sensei Malcolm Fisher deserves credit for having the initiative to depart from conventional JKA teaching, for using the best available information for upgrading Shotokan and for demonstrating the utility of the result. His work in this area is most impressive considering that he was never formally trained in either mathematics or physics.
The features of Fisher Shotokan that are most obvious to the casual observer are the speed of the turns and the large energy delivery. However, the feature of Fisher Shotokan that gives it much of its speed and energy advantages is superior footwork, hip motion and upper body positioning. These basic skills must be practised until they form part of a karateka's muscle memory. Malcolm Fisher has commented that superior competitors are often unaware of the superiority of their footwork and body positioning.
FISHER SHOTOKAN TECHNIQUE EXECUTION:
Sensei Fisher points out that for a karate technique to succeed it must be executed in less than 0.5 seconds. Otherwise the technique will likely be blocked.
In Fisher Shotokan every technique has three phases referred to herein as loading, unloading and return. All three phases must be executed within a single one half second time interval.
The first phase is loading. During this phase elastic potential energy is accumulated by applying stress to major muscle groups and rotational kinetic energy is accumulated by applying torque to the floor through the legs at a large body moment of inertia. During the resulting rotation arm and leg movements toward the vertical rotation axis cause further rotational kinetic energy accumulation by reduction of the body moment of inertia. This process of energy accumulation in different parts of the body is simultaneous, not sequential.
The second phase is referred to as unloading. During this phase the elastic potential energy and the rotational kinetic energy accumulated in various parts of the body during the first phase are converted into linear kinetic energy directed at the target. This discharge of stored energy from different parts of the body must be simultaneous, not sequential.
The third phase is an immediate return to a ready position in preparation for execution of another technique.
There is no time for any thought related to execution of these three phases. Fisher Shotokan techniques must be practised daily until they are reliably reflexively executed under adrenal stress.
The laws of physics limit the rate of execution of any technique. For example, dropping the body center of momentum a distance D to load the legs can only be done in time T according to the formula:
D = (g T^2) / 2
g = acceleration of gravity = 9.8 m /s^2
Hence for T = 0.2 s, D is given by:
D = [9.8 m / s^2 X (0.2 s)^2] / 2
= 9.8 m / 50
= .196 m
Hence the laws of physics require at least 0.20 s to execute a 0.196 m CM drop for loading the legs. During that 0.20 s time interval the karateka must assess the situation and decide what to do next because he/she only has about 0.30 seconds remaining to complete execution of a technique after his/her legs are loaded.
An important issue in Fisher Shotokan is that a punch motion is not complete until the karateka returns to the 50%/50% position ready for another attack. The zenkutsu-dachi position should only used at the instant of energy delivery and is seldom an appropriate end of technique position. Triple punches should not be used in kihon practise because they inherently do not include a return to the 50%/50% ready position. Similarly in kata execution, with a few notable exceptions, both lunge punches and reverse punches should include a return to the 50%/50% ready position. Hence Fisher Shotokan involves various minor changes to the JKA kata as described by M. Nakayama.
REVERSE PUNCH ISSUE:
The JKA preaches that an ideal reverse punch at the point of impact has a linear force vector extending from the rear heel to the striking fist. However, the problem with this gospel is that most people simply do not have sufficient rear foot ankle flexibility to execute a long reverse punch in this manner without either lifting their rear heel or turning their rear foot to the side. In either case a karate-ka's rear leg is not well positioned either to deliver maximum energy over maximum distance during the reverse punch or to execute a rapid followup technique.
During the early 1970s Ted Jungblut, under the guidance of Sensei Masami Tsuruoka, was the dominant karate competitor in Canada. I attended many of Ted Jungblut's classes and in later years I attended some of his clinics when he spoke about the details of his technique. The issue is that Ted's reverse punch did not adhere to JKA gospel.
Sensei Ted Jungblut kept both his feet pointed at his opponent. To enable pointing his rear foot forward his stance was slightly shorter than recommended by the JKA. The first three quarters of Ted's reverse punch was thrust off the rear heel as recommended by the JKA. However, during the last quarter of Ted's reverse punch his rear leg was fully unloaded and his rear foot slid forward along the floor, still pointing forward toward his opponent. This portion of his reverse punch was actually powered by his hips using his front leg as a focrum. This action extended Ted's effective reach and increased his power. Immediately after impact Ted's hips again used the front leg as a focrum to rotate his center of mass backwards and reload his rear leg, which he could do because his rear foot had slid forward closer to his opponent.
Ted's concepts of ignoring JKA dogma, of keeping both of his feet pointed at his target and of rapid reloading of his rear leg are the foundation of Fisher Shotokan. These concepts lead to a more aggressive balanced kumite stance from which high energy techniques can be delivered with either arm or either leg.
For complex historical reasons I do not think that there was much direct interaction between Ted Jungblut and Malcolm Fisher. However, Sensei Masami Tsuruoka instructed Ted Jungblut in the early 1970s and instructed Malcolm Fisher in the late 1970s. It is my belief that even before Malcolm Fisher went to Japan he had learned the value of keeping his feet pointed at his opponent.
ICE SKATING ISSUE:
Commencing about 1968 the sport of figure skating underwent major rule changes to make it more attractive to a television audience. One of the effects of those rule changes was to promote hip spinning skills amongst ice skating teenagers. It is of historical interest to note that Malcolm Fisher was a superior ice hockey player before he mastered karate. He likely transferred some of his hip spinning skills from his ice skating to his karate.
LEARNING FISHER SHOTOKAN:
Fisher Shotokan contains three essential skills that many karate-ka find difficult to learn. These skills must be continuously practiced until they are second nature so that under adrenal stress a karate-ka's body automatically defaults to them. These skills are referred to herein as Foot Pointing, Foot Spacing and Hip Spinning.
Foot Pointing sounds simple. "Keep the long axis of the foot of your loaded leg pointed at your opponent." In practice many karate-ka, especially those who have extensive experience in a pure JKA Shotokan setting, find learning this skill extremely difficult. Their bodies habitually default into a position in which the rear foot points somewhat sideways and does not provide maximum available energy during forward motion. In my view the single biggest obstacle to them learning Fisher Shotokan is breaking this habit. This habit infects not just kihon reverse punches but extends throughout their karate and is pervasive amongst many sempai and dojo heads. This habit frequently leads to long term knee problems.
This habit stems in part from lack of discipline regarding telegraphing with the front foot and loading the rear leg. Too many JKA Shotokan karate instructors dwell on a long stance instead of a loaded stance. As a result their students tend to adopt a long kihon stance with the rear foot pointing somewhat to the side. This position may also cause movement of the front foot on initiation of a technique. This stance causes unnatural knee stress and reduces the potential energy that is available for explosive forward movement. Adoption of this position may be further reinforced by a desire to use a classical rear leg jodan mawashi-geri in order to take advantage of the modern WKF rules that give three points for a successful jodan mawashi-geri as compared to only one point for a successful jodan suki.
In my view this WKF point issue perpetuates mediocre karate competitors because in high level competition the speeds are so great that a classical jodan mawashi-geri is seldom successful because it is too slow. The jodan kicks that are successful in high level competition are Bill Wallace (Superfoot Wallace) style kicks that start from a forward knee high position. The kicker does not decide whether the kick will be mae-geri, yoko-geri, mawashi-geri or ura-mawashi-geri until after his knee is raised in front of him and his thigh is pointing above his opponent's head. His opponent usually does not have sufficient lead time to appropriately block this kick before impact. If the opponent simply guesses as to the direction of the attack the opponent has only one chance in four of being correct. However, this kicking technique can only be mastered by an elite athlete who has an exceptional range of motion. A modern Canadian karate competitor who perfected this kicking technique is Nassim Varasteh-Reyhanian.
Thus in my view the very first step in learning Fisher Shotokan is learning to keep the foot of the loaded leg pointed at the opponent. This skill must be maintained during daily kihon practice.
LATERAL FOOT SPACING:
An issue somewhat related to foot pointing is maintaining the optimum lateral spacing between the feet. The optimum lateral foot spacing is a function of the karateka's menu of preferred techniques.
If we define a foot length as the distance between the points of rotation on the heel and ball of the foot, the ideal lateral foot spacing for purely linear movement is exactly one foot length. Thus starting from a kiba-dachi stance a karateka can rotate his/her feet 90 degrees either CW or CCW and his/her hips 45 degrees in the same direction to reach a fully loaded 50%/50% attack position without lifting either foot off the floor and without any lateral motion of the body center of momentum. This simple fast 180 degree turn from a 50%/50% attack position in one direction through kiba-dachi to a 50%/50% attack position in the opposite direction permits rapid linear movement.
However, this relatively narrow lateral foot spacing has the disadvantages that it does not provide the karateka sufficient lateral stability to absorb an opponents energetic mawashi-geri attack and does not enable sufficient torque to allow the karateka to execute a rapid large angle turn about one leg. Further, a narrow lateral width stance telegraphs the inability to achieve a rapid large angle turn.
Malcolm Fisher believes in use of a wider stance (~ 2 foot length lateral spacing) to allow rapid large angle turns about one leg. These turns involve energy accumulation and provide lateral shifts of the body center of momentum, which are useful for avoiding an opponents attack while delivering a counter attack. Malcolm Fisher emphasizes that the lateral foot spacing used in kihon, kata and kumite should be identical. Otherwise the kihon and kata practice is not relevant to kumite.
In order to correctly and repeatedly practice rapid turns about one leg it is essential to have a low friction floor surface, as otherwise the wear on the karateka's feet and torque stresses on the katateka's ankle and knee joints are too great. Hence Fisher Shotokan should not be practiced on a carpet or on a matted floor.
The turns in Fisher Shotokan involve a skill called "Hip Spinning". Hip Spinning is a technique used by elite figure skaters just prior to a jump in order to gain sufficient angular momentum to achieve multiple turns in the air. It is a skill that is unfamiliar to most karate-ka. There is no alternative but to practice this skill daily so that the karate-ka's body defaults to it under adrenalized conditions. Daily kata practice should include katas, such as Heian Shodan and Taikyoku Shodan, which contain multiple large angle turns that should each be executed at maximum speed. Performing Heian Shodan and Taikyoku Shodan at slow speed promotes bad turning habits. However, these katas should be executed with sufficient time between successive techniques to allow maximum energy delivery during each technique.
This web page last updated March 3, 2019.
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