I'm going to have to tread lightly...very lightly...with this topic, but it's one that I feel needs to be addressed. Before I get started, let me state, I love karate. After all, it's both an individual and a team sport; a karate-ka can learn a plethora about themselves in this sport. Physical boundaries can be expanded, the impossible can be made possible. Over the years, I've seen children and adults experience tons of progress and growth.
Specifically, I love Yoshukai Karate; if I didn't, I wouldn't dedicate the time I do to this style. Nothing is perfect, but I feel like there is a ton of good in Yoshukai Karate.
But let's be honest: in the grander scheme of things, on the surface anyway, that all accounts for a hill of beans.
"Are you serious, Hangtime...you don't possibly believe that...do you?" Yes, yes I do. And besides, you read it on the internet, so it must be true. ;-)
Let me explain: You've been doing this karate stuff for several years, you're a brown belt and it looks good on you...black would look even better. But let me ask you a question: how do you feel about sparring?
...not a big fan, that's OK, your kata is phenomenal. That must make you amongst the the top...five, ten baddest people on the planet...right? Nope, not even close.
OK - let's try another scenario: You fight like a beast in the dojo. It's lonely at the top...in fact, it's just you and Sensei...and the clock is ticking for him. You'll catch him before the next rank test...you're well on your way to dojo domination. To boot, your kata is impeccable. If Chuck Norris existed in iambic pentameter, he would be you...pure poetry in motion. You are king of the jungle, a young lion in his prime...rawwwrrr!
Amazing...I'm with ya. You're nothing to balk at. But...what happens if an argument or confrontation happens 3 feet away from you? Do you soil your pants? Step back into a fighting stance with your hands waaaaaaaaay too low to actually stop anything? I know, you immediately step back into zenkutsudachi and kiyah, right?!
Any of the above and boy, are you in trouble.
I say all of that (and I jipped you about 5 more scenarios, I figure by now you get the point) to say this; the expectations you have with your karate needs to be served with a heaping helping of reality and perspective. Without it, you're toast.
Let me explain: In Yoshukai karate, like many others, we have kata, kumite (Japanese style and point sparring), weapons & self defense. It's hard to focus on any one thing, with such a broad range, but if you're mastering one, you're neglecting a lot of material. Overall, that point is neither here nor there for the purposes of this post, but it's true. And I'll be you a dollar that you had never thought of that.
Sometimes, it seems as though there is a false sense of bravado obtained by your everyday, casual karate-ka. Being a "casual everyday karate-ka" is not a problem, the false sense of bravado is. Doing good kata does not make you the baddest person on the planet. And here's something that may shock you: being a good fighter does not make you the baddest person on the planet either (and let's go ahead and include how you swing a nunchuka and/or bo).
Pay very close attention to this next statement: kata != fighting. Yep, I said it, and you cannot convince me otherwise. I'll take another step over that sacred line and say: "The only effectiveness kata has in fighting is the cardio...and that's only if you do them one after another after another as hard as you can". Yep...I said it.
Some, SOME, karate-ka take the time to bunkai kata; there's problem number one; SOME. Not very many, at that.Even those of us that could pull something out of their tokus for the moves of some kata, surely don't believe that most of it would work in a self defense situation...or at least I hope. Let's draw some analogies: I call the "base" bunkai the potatoes. I am a french fry guy, so my potatoes will be fries, but I digress. They're good; they make a great side dish or even a great snack, but not a good main course. Sometimes, I'll take the snack, but it's just that --a snack. Dive deeper young Padawan, there's meat behind those potatoes. How can the lesson behind that bunkai be applied. Think about it...try it out; how does it work out for you? Not well? What did you learn, though? How does that work for you? Better? Enjoy your steak.
I'm not suggesting that kata doesn't have it's merits, I am merely imploring you, the reader, to put it in its proper place. It is a way to develop coordination, drill concepts applicable to both fighting and self defense, develop strength and stamina (if done right...)...it could even be used to get you onto ESPN screaming like a banshee! OK, let's leave that last one out, shall we? :-D
Why Are You Really Here?
Many people take karate for the self defense benefit...but...are no where to be found on sparring night.
So, help me understand; you come to the dojo in hopes that you will be prepared in the unlikely event that someone attacks you on the street...but you don't want to condition yourself for what might happen to you...because...it...hurts...
Errr. Riddle me this, Batman, on the street is your expectation that you will end any conflict swiftly, with one blow, without breaking a sweat. Hmm. Upon what experience are you basing this expectation? Your bench press must be awe inspiring...and you must spend a fortune in heavy bags. Seriously, you need to be in the dojo, learning how to hit and be hit, feeling the pressure of not being the second coming of Bruce Lee, learning how to manage the adrenaline rush you WILL FEEL if you find yourself remotely close to a self defense situation.
The notion that sparring hurts is valid; it does. It certainly isn't ticklish. But that pain doesn't change; your reaction and coping mechanisms do. Skip out on sparring night at your own risk...I'll be you TEN dollars your Plan A reduces greatly if you aren't equipped mentally for being hit.
The Great Self Defense Debate
OK, green belt. You've made it to the big time...first line! Good stuff. This next test should be easy...right? I mean, you only have one new weapon/kata and a few self defense techniques to demonstrate. That's cake!
Punch, side step, chudan tsuki, stomp the foot and end with an ax kick...cake, I say!
Hold on, one second. Think back to the last time you punched full force someone the size of your partner, I mean, really swung for the fences. How'd that work out for you? Did they continue to stand there, waiting for your next technique or did the double over in pain? If you said the former, you might want to go back to the drawing board.
I often tell students self defense needs to be quick, violent and explosive --if your self defense for testing is slow, tentative and gentle...you might want to go back to the drawing board. By no means am I suggesting you hurt your partner, absolutely not, but you should be convinced (and be honest!), "Man, that's going to really hurt". The litmus test: Does your partner cringe when you execute? If they don't, they're either really trusting or not the least bit afraid you're going to hurt them if you make contact; my money is on the latter.
Oh, and one more thing: are you actually going to remember that? What are you going to do if you do not? ...yep, thought so, you hadn't thought of that.
So Why Waste Time?
Here's where I bring all of this back home. I'm not saying karate is bad; in fact, if I've done my job correctly, you're brain is running 100MPH...as it should be ALWAYS after you leave the dojo or while you're training.
If you're mailing it in, you're not doing yourself any favors...in fact, if you're mailing it in, you're at even more of a disadvantage than someone who is disillusioned. You've got some serious homework to do. I mean, you don't really even have a clue what you're doing and how bad a situation may get for you.
How does this change...where do I start? Ask questions. Find the meat and enjoy both the meat and the potatoes! Talk about what you're doing with your instructor, think about what you're doing (and ask how it applies, how is it useful) and most importantly, be realistic about what you're doing!! Never assume what you're doing is enough, chances are it's not. Stamina, strength training, technique...especially technique...can always improve, but these are the tools, you are the house! Put the pieces of your training, your karate toolkit, in order --each tool has a specific use and purpose. If you think kata, kumite and self defense (for testing) is all you need, you're sorely mistaken! Remember, meat and potatoes.
More on managing expectations later...stay tuned for Part 2.