The Centerline… An Essential Concept that Improves your Karate Skill

What is “the centerline” and why is it important? Most martial artists are familiar with the term. We have heard our instructors say “protect your centerline” or “attack your opponent’s centerline.”

What are they talking about?

First, the centerline is the axis that runs down the middle of the body. Draw an imaginary line down the forehead, between the eyes, down the nose, through the middle of the chest, and continuing to the midline of the groin. This is the centerline.

Why is it important?

Many of the important targets you are trying to attack or defend are down the centerline of the body. These include the head, eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus,  and groin. A person’s balance is often along this centerline axis as well. In the chest, many of the organs are near the centerline, such as the heart.

Targeting the centerline gives you advantages over an opponent. Proper stances and blocks are essential the and also to generate significant force when punching.

New students start with stances that are always forward-facing, particularly their upper body. This makes it easier to learn proper alignment of their legs and feet. and the proper length of their stances. Also, instructors want to make it easier to learn how to punching along the center of their body.

As the student progresses in ability, their stances become more consistent, and stronger. It’s at that time that the importance of protecting one’s centerline and attacking the opponent’s centerline can be stressed.

Slight adjustments are made to upper body positioning, turning slightly left or right, to help shield the centerline from a direct attack. That slight turn helps protect vital organs when receiving punches, but it also helps create greater torque with the lower body to deliver strikes with greater force and speed.

The adjustment of the upper body position affects block effectiveness. It is important to practice all blocks to ensure that they are executed properly without creating unnecessary stress to the body or limiting the range of motion. Care should be taken to ensure that punches, kicks, and other strikes can still be delivered to the centerline of the opponent, even if they are turned slightly.

One’s centerline can also be protected with slight shuffling of the feet (side-to-side, backwards, etc.). The goal is to avoid direct contact to your centerline while still placing yourself in a position to deliver a counterattack to your opponent’s centerline. Considering that most fights are conducted at close range, it is extremely important that students learn to rotate their upper body, shuffle their feet, and block to avoid direct blows. Centerline blows can be serious, which is reason enough to protect against them.

Students must also learn to mount an offense while using these countermeasures. Unless there is a one-punch knockout, both opponents in a fight will get hit. As they say about playing cards, “to shuffle, you have to deal.” That is, you need to take control of the fighting situation. The goal is to minimize the impact your body receives while maximizing the impact you deliver to your opponent.

How do you do this?

Positioning yourself to protect your centerline also puts you in position to best attack theirs. As students progress in their ranks, this is one of the subtle areas of difference that can be seen in each level. The centerline is very important because it affects all aspects of their self defense skills.

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