Monday, September 28, 2009

Epiphany: "Distance" Karate

Tuesday night at the dojo, we worked on ippon kumite self-defense technique "add ons." See, coming through the ranks, the 13 ippons we were required to know were taught to us one at a time - as in only one being done at a time. In the dojo this week, we worked on doing two and even three at a time - adding on, if you will.

"Remember," Sensei S. told us, "ippon kumite techniques are only ONE POINT techniques that are designed to defend from one thing: a straight punch to the face. So, after you've countered that, you've really only disarmed ONE of your adversary's weapons (limbs)." The idea, he continued, is to learn to keep attacking and finish until the adversary is neutralized.

OK - so this made sense to me. I jumped in and got to work with those extra empis, sternum strikes and shoulder locks - only to realize that I stopped the techniques just before my uke tapped out. So I started thinking and fell upon this epiphany: I ALWAYS stop before the person I'm doing the technique on can tap. Even when instructed to "stay the course" and keep the shoulder lock or arm bar on until the tap, I stopped just short. Always. What the heck is that about?!?

I know it makes no sense, but I think the idea of stepping into a technique to grab someone and take them down intimidates the snot out of me. Like every other little girl on the planet, I grew up on fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White where the heroine was kind, gentle, giving and nurturing. Sure their gentle nature almost did them in, but in the end, it all worked out, right? I think that's my hope as far as self-defense goes. Perhaps I may even be a little afraid of hurting my adversary, which really makes no sense at all - so I talked to Sensei S about it.

He said that most likely, if I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time or to protect my child, I'd do what I needed to do to save me/us, not the other person. My concern, of course, is that how I train will be exactly how I actually respond in the face of confrontation. But I'm not sure if that's even the real reason.

So here it is: truth be told, I don't want to be that close to someone trying to do me harm - and shoulder locks and empis to the gut, neck or jaw require intimately close contact. I'm 6'2" with a 41" inseam, so a hook kick to the head or any other wide, sweeping technique will net the same incapacitation that will allow me and mine enough time to get away - and is what I prefer. But Sensei S countered with the idea that an attacker won't really allow me the distance to pull such a technique off as he or she will insist on the closeness as a way to restrict and control.

The something new I learned this week is that I need much work on finishing what is started by an adversary. The learning curve here is huge - but at least the learning continues. Where I'll go from here with it is anyone's guess.


  1. I empathise with you about not wanting to get in too close during ippon kumite and being reticent about hurting your opponent - we suffer from the same problem in my club. However we need to know we can do this stuff for real if we ever need to so I have a rule that I won't do anything to my partner that I wouldn't want them to do to me. Since I actually want to practice techniques on them effectively I encourage them to tighten locks properly on me and throw me correctly - that way I don't feel too guilty when I do it to them! However if I was as tall as you (I'm 5'3") I think I would prefer to rely on my long reach and kicks!

  2. But Sue, it is such an irrational thing, really. I'm TRAINING on a regular for close-quarter defense followed by close-quarter assault if necessary. Ummm...I HAFTA get close to do that, right?!? To practice all of that and never completely try to use it in training is silly - and it might actually get me hurt one dark night, I fear...

    So, I gotta jump in and do the damn thing, I suppose. Yes, it scares the bejesus out of me to even THINK about getting that close, but, like "Urban Samurai" says, I think I'm going to have to learn how to feel the fear and do it anyway. Maybe some supplemental training in Jujitsu or judo might help, I dunno...

  3. You may be right about a bit of supplemental jujitsu or judo training. As well as karate I attend a jujitsu/kobujutsu club primarily to learn kobujutsu but at the beginning of each session I have to join the whole class with breakfall practice and hip throws or arm lock practice. This has helped me find my courage to be thrown and to throw others. In fact I quite enjoy throwing myself around now!If you learn how to fall properly and realise that it doesn't hurt you lose your fear of it. My karate class, with its new syllabus, has also introduced regular breakfall practice and several people in the class have commented on how people seem more confident in performing the self-defense techniques. Perhaps all karate clubs should do this?

  4. We've done some grappling and ground work lately in my Saturday class (we just got mats a few months ago), and I'm starting to feel a bit more comfy, but I know there are miles to go before this becomes second nature. Yet another not-so-gentle reminder of all there still is left to learn :-). Can I come to your class?

  5. You're welcome at my class anytime (if you don't mind the long commute!). By the way your article has been the inspiration for my latest post.

  6. Excellent topic.

    I think this takes time. We practice a lot of combinations in the dojo. People develop preferences in target and techniques. In my opinion, I believe that if a situation would arise, I would rely on the techniques in which am most comfortable. They are the techniques that work well with my body type and take advantage of my strengths.

  7. Hi, Michele...

    The really funny thing is that in the ring/during line sparring, I am aggressive and responsive. I don't really hold back the same way unless the instruction is for light or no contact. But then again, I can use what works for me where with the grabs/locks and self-defense stuff, I'm doing what Sensei calls for. I'm also not afraid of hurting my uke because, well, s/he is trying to hurt me, so...

    Urban Samurai's latest blog talks about how having one or two "tried and true" techniques to use/rely on can save you some teeth/skin in a real life situation. Perhaps, he argues, our MA training makes too many techniques available to us which can potentially trip you up when the chips are down. Hmmm...