Kime: where mind, body and spirit meet with intent, from the core of your being to the point of delivery; tapping into the universal energy in 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’. Depending on the dictionary, it may be defined as decide, focus of power, or finish. The literal translation is a '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.
I have heard various instructors (usually westerners) trying to explain the concept of Kime:
1. “Accelerating into your target, where your Kime focuses the energy.”
2. “Kime is the ability to rapidly deliver power into the target.”
“Kime: a destructive force that, once mastered, transforms the student into a master.”
4. 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:
5. “Kime is merely a physical contraction that happens when, in traditional karate in particular (because most of its practice is done against an imaginary 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.”
Those who subscribe to 1, 2, 3 or 4 are merely trying to verbalise a feeling that is so elusive it escapes purely physical, logical explanation. And those who subscribe to number 5 simply don’t grasp the concept and never actually feel Kime. I find that some of the sport karate or freestyle orientated styles, with no traditional roots, those who, instead of Kime, use words like fixate, or phrases like, ‘Deliver vigorously, and pull the punch,’ fall into this category.
One of my favourite metaphors, concerning Kime, I heard from Frank Nowak Sensei, sadly now deceased. Originally from Germany, after completing the legendary Nakayama Sensei’s JKA Instructors Course, Nowak Sensei immigrated to Australia in 1971. Nowak Sensei was the very first recipient of the "Best Referee Award" by WUKO, at the World Championships in Taiwan in 1982:
“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 that missile, fitted with an explosive warhead, hitting that same tank… That is the difference between hitting with and without Kime!”
Shotokan legend, the late Nakayama Masatoshi Sensei, founder of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, and Chief Instructor of the JKA until his passing in 1987, said: “The essence of karate technique is Kime. Kime may result from striking, punching or kicking, but also from blocking. A technique lacking Kime is never true karate. “
Shotokan legend, Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei, founder of the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (SKIF) in 1977, and Chief Instructor of SKIF until his passing in 2019. As a younger man, while travelling the world, an emissary for the JKA, he would demonstrate how Kime can work by taking a stack of four or five boards and – after asking which of the boards the observers wanted him to break – striking the stack, breaking only the required board.
While in the army I was a useful boxer; I was fast but not heavily muscled, with no concept of Kime. No matter how hard I tried, and I stopped several opponents with my ferocious onslaughts, I could never manage that one punch knock-out. That changed after beginning my Shotokan training and, thanks to Kime, half a century later I’m still renowned for my knock-out blow capacity.
Everyone has their own special relationship with, and understanding of, Kime; regardless of opinions to the contrary, Kime is a very real phenomenon. Kime is fundamentally an essential, qualitative part of any martial art. Without Kime, any technique in any art – a boxing punch, Jujitsu throw, Muay Thai elbow, Iaido cut, or any of the precision strikes of Shotokan ‒ lacks the necessary quality to give said technique its full potential.
For the martial arts fraternity, Shotokan Karateka in particular, Kime is an internal function that can be observably demonstrated during the practice of kihon, kata and kumite. Certainly, no Torakan karateka will reach Shodan level without an instinctive understanding and mastery of the concept we call Kime.
For me, at 72 years of age, Kime is as instinctive as breathing.