Mindset in Karate..

Written by Steve Rowe. Posted in Articles By Steve Rowe

Ippon Kumite!”  We all paired off for ‘one step mutual practice’ of attack and defend.  I ended up with ‘clumsy Ray’ because everyone else avoided pairing up with him.

“Chudan uke ipponme!”  This is the first defence against an attack to the body, the attacker from left fighting position steps forward and punches with the right arm to the body and the defender moves back, matching his movements meeting his arm at the ‘wedge’ point and then stick, blend, follow and redirect the arm with an inside to outside movement of his arm, breaking the attackers balance and then responding by sliding in with a reverse punch to the kidneys.

I could see Ray building up for the attack and then he stormed in with a full blooded kiai (spirit shout) this meant that the ‘soft’ defence worked even better, but it also meant that he fell heavily and clumsily on to my reverse punch.  He dropped to his knees with the unwitting expression of “Jeeeezzz…”  a hurt look on his face and looked toward sensei.

“Ray…..”  said sensei in exasperation, “it’s sotai dosai, that means ‘mutual practice’, start slowly and carefully and gradually build up power with skill rather than just clumsy effort.”

“I was trying to my hardest sensei, trying to make it real.”

“You’re certainly ‘trying’ Ray, real comes a little later; you need to develop the skills first and we’ll ‘up the ante’ as we go along, start soft, develop the skills, work with your partner and allow the power to develop at a natural pace alongside skill.”

“Hai sensei” Ray tried to oblige but still only managed ‘stiff and slow’, at least I didn’t have to whack him to stop him from hurting me.  It’s also important to train with all different kinds of people to get used to different builds and temperaments so I didn’t really mind his clumsiness that much.

“Let’s play a little with semantics” said sensei.  “Aggression to me means that energy is based in fear.  To train with aggression means that you are increasing fear levels and using your valuable energy in ‘panic’ mode.  This means that you are more liable to make mistakes and your energy will ‘leak’ out and fade very quickly.

I prefer a ‘hunters’ mindset.  Conserving my energy and using it productively, the prey ‘panics’ whereas the hunter uses strategy.  Humans are natural hunters so we don’t have to work that hard to develop the mindset, we were born with it.  It also immediately initiates the strategic mind and energises the body in a positive way.

How do animals (and humans) learn that hunter skill?  The pups, kittens and cubs of hunting animals ‘play’ at hunting.  Human children always want to play the same way by wrestling, it’s a natural instinct.  It’s not done aggressively but enthusiastically.  The hunters mind kicks in when they have to survive or kill to eat.

This is why I encourage ‘play’ and skill learning; this gets enthusiastic as the skill level increases and finally, by mutual agreement becomes as real as we can get without serious injury to ‘replicate’ what actually happens in a violent confrontation.

At the moment Ray, you are training with aggression and fear and it’s seizing your body and mind with negative tension, you remind me of car that’s got the handbrake jammed on!”

“I understand now sensei, I was trying too hard and need to change my mindset from ‘trying’ to ‘controlling’, not an easy task, I think it might take some time!”

“It takes as long as it takes Ray, you can’t rush it.”  Sensei turned to the class “ you’ve practiced that ippon kumite for some time now – let’s ‘up the ante’ semete (attacker) attacks the same but ukete (defender) now does a half step back and forward receiving and hitting the semete before he stops moving.”

This ‘backwards and forwards’ motion of the defender halved the time and doubled the speed, making the movement more skilled and far more dynamic.  The ability to move with the attacker rather than get out of the way and then move to respond took a lot more skill.

“This is difficult sensei!”

“Of course it’s difficult, skill has to be layered. Having achieved one level of skill you have to be taken outside of your comfort zone and driven to the next level – you need to practice!”  And this we did for some time 

Yamee!   Okay guys let’s really up the ante!  We’ve stepped backwards and then forwards to retaliate, that’s stage one, then we stayed on the same spot and simultaneously attacked, that’s stage two, stage three is semete either jabs to attack or steps forward and ukete takes shizentai (natural stance with the hands down) and walks forward assuming that they will deflect the attack and attack the attacker!

This takes a high level of skill because you have to ignore the attack and assume that your deflecting arm will do its job.  If you panic or have an aggressive mindset you will fear the attack or be reckless toward it, hunters mindset means that you have trained sufficiently and are confident that you can deal with it reflexively on the way in and are focusing on ‘the kill’ or if you are hunting for food…. your dinner!”

“So the end product of ippon kumite should be the ability to walk forwards into an attack having the confidence and skill to be able deal with it and negate the attacker?”

“Precisely.  It’s the skill building steps that you need to take to achieve this.  You can also see that the kamae (attitude) means that your physical and mental attitudes play a great part, you need to work on your ‘hunters’ mindset’ right from the start to skill build effectively to this stage.”

“So how come other clubs I’ve trained in only do the first stage and simply do it harder and faster for the higher grades?”

“Dunno.  You’ll have to ask them that.  It’s a good beginning and a safe way for both adults and children to start the learning process, but that’s all it is – the first stage.  If you don’t ‘up the ante’ at the right time you’ll be repeating beginners karate for ever.

And we don’t want to be doing that do we?”

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