Most martial artists are familiar with the “centerline.” We have heard our instructors say “protect your centerline” or “attack your opponent’s centerline”. What are they talking about?
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 middle of the nose, through the middle of the chest, existing the center of the groin. This is the centerline. Why is it important?
Many of the important targets you are trying to attack and the ones you need to defend are down the centerline of the body. We protect ourselves with blocks or body positions so we are not hit in our head, eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus, or groin.
A person’s center of balance is often along this axis as well. Targeting the centerline gives you advantages over your opponent.
The use of stances and blocks is the foundation of centerline protection. Students do not learn this explicitly at the beginning of their karate studies, but it is in the basics of learning proper stances and proper targeting of punches. This is why we teach them to punch while giving them a target by facing them directly.
The reason for this is to ensure that the legs/feet are aligned properly (length and width) and that blocks are in the proper position when they are initially taught. Instructors want to ensure that the beginner student is punching down the center of their body.
As the student progresses in ability the importance of protecting one’s centerline and attacking the opponent’s centerline is stressed. Slight adjustments to the upper body, turning to the left or right, will help shield the centerline from a direct attack. With this adjustment of the upper body it is important to practice all blocks to ensure that they are executed effectively without causing unnecessary stress to the body or limiting the range of motion. Care should also be taken to ensure that punches, kicks, and other strikes can still be delivered to the centerline of the opponent. The centerline can also be protected with slight shuffling of the feet (side-to-side, backwards, etc.). The goal here is to avoid direct contact to your centerline while still placing yourself in a position to deliver a counter attack to your opponent’s centerline.
The figures show that only a slight change in position protects the centerline and also puts your hips in position for executing powerful techniques.
Considering that most fights are conducted at close range, it is extremely important that the student learns how to rotate his upper body, shuffle his feet, and block to avoid direct blows, often fatal blows, to his centerline.
Students must also learn to mount an offense while using these counter measures. Unless there is a one punch knockout both opponents in a fight will get hit. As is said in card playing “to shuffle you have to deal.” The goal is to minimize the trauma that your body receives while maximizing the trauma that you inflict on your opponent. How do you do this? One way is to protect your centerline while attacking his! This is why the centerline is so very important.
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