The concept of Kime in martial arts
Kime can be said to be a focal point, where mind, body and spirit meet with intent, during zanshin (total awareness – physically, mentally and spiritually – during combat), from the core of your being to the delivery point. It probably doesn’t help to say that ki (another esoteric term that eludes purely logical explanation) can be said to be connected to kime. Personally, I believe that ki, like kime, is akin to tapping into the universal energy in little bite sized pieces. I know it when I feel it; and, as an instructor, I recognise it when I see it. Kime is a Japanese word; it is the noun form of the verb ‘kimeru’ which means ‘to decide’, so kime simply means a decisive or set/fixed place or idea. Depending on the dictionary, it may be defined as decide, focus of power (at point of contact) or finish. A literal translation is 'decision' or 'commitment'; also concentration of spirit, mind and physical body at an intended, particular point.
It’s not unusual to find that a word can mean many things, and it is even less unusual to find that a term in Japanese doesn’t translate smoothly into English. Outside of the martial arts, the word kime is ambiguous at best. However, within that esteemed enclave, the meaning of kime becomes even more abstruse; suffice to say that it seems to mean different things to different people. I have heard several instructors (usually westerners) trying to explain the concept of kime:
“Accelerating into your target, where your kime focuses the energy.”
“Kime is the ability to rapidly deliver power into the target.”
“Kime: a destructive force that once mastered transforms the student into a master.”
Even the almighty Wikipedia says kime means “power, and/or focus.” These are but a few of the many I’ve heard. I’ve also heard those who would debunk kime:
“Kime is merely a physical contraction that happens when, in traditional karate in particular (because most of its practice is done against an imaginary adversary or target), the antagonist muscles (that is the opposing muscles to those used to initiate whichever technique) are used to stop a technique; denoted by the snapping of the gi.”
I personally believe that those who subscribe to 1, 2, 3 or 4 are merely trying to express a feeling that is so elusive it escapes purely physical, logical explanation. And those who subscribe to number 5 are plainly insulting, they never actually feel it and just don’t get it at all; I find that some of the sport karate or freestyle orientated styles, with no traditional roots, who use words like fixate or, instead of Kime, deliver vigorously and pull the punch fall into this category.
One of my favourite metaphors, concerning kime, I heard from the Shotokan Master, sadly now deceased, Frank Novak Sensei, who - after moving from Germany to Japan and completing the legendary Nakayama Sensei’s JKA ‘Instructors Course’ - immigrated to Australia:
“Imagine an antitank weapon firing, first of all, a missile without a warhead at a tank; the missile would surely rock that tank but would probably not stop or incapacitate it. Now picture the missile, fitted with an explosive warhead, hitting that same tank… That is the difference between hitting with and without kime!"
Before my involvement in Shotokan Karate-Do I was quite a useful middle-weight army boxer, but I was lean and not heavily muscled around the shoulders. I was fast; however, I had no concept of kime and believed that I did not possess the necessary equipment to deliver a knockout blow. No matter how hard I tried, and I stopped several opponents with my ferocious onslaughts, I could not deliver that knock-out blow. Soon after beginning my Shotokan training I understood the meaning of kime (where mind, body and spirit meet with intent). I became quite renowned for that one punch knock-out blow.
In the final analysis: my personal understanding of kime is that it is intrinsically connected with an essential, qualitative part of any martial art, and is defined so sublimely in Shotokan Karate-Do. Without kime, any move or technique, in any martial art – be that the final delivery stage in a boxing punch, Jujitsu throw, Muay Thai elbow strike, Iaido cut, or any of the precision strikes of Shotokan Karate ‒ lacks the necessary impact or emphasis, to give said technique its full potential. So, for the martial arts fraternity, karate in particular and Shotokan specifically, kime is an internal function that can be observably demonstrated during the practice of kihon, kata and kumite. I know it when I feel it; and, as an instructor, I recognise it when I see it.