Monday, September 15, 2014

Handshakes, Ballroom Dancing, and Martial Arts

I spent a considerable amount of my young adulthood engaged in the pursuit of becoming a magician. My specialty was sleight of hand, as opposed to stage illusions or "box" magic. You might not know, but magicians spend significant hours practicing alone to perfect their sleights. While performing magic is a public endeavor, practicing magic is often a very solitary activity.

As a martial arts student attempting to learn a new defensive maneuver, there are three elements to master. First there are the techniques, be it blocks, strikes, kicks, or feigns. Secondly, there is the distance between you and the opponent. Newbies struggle a lot to get the positioning just right so that each technique can be effective. It takes a long time to learn the length of your arms and legs.

Lastly, one has to master the timing of each technique. You can't block a punch before it is thrown, and blocking too late is like having the perfect comeback an hour after you've been insulted. Of the three elements one must practice to master self defense, two of them require a partner. Handshakes, ballroom dancing, and martial arts - you just can't get better working alone.

That means you have a responsibility too, to be the best partner you can be. Let's say you are practicing a counter-attack against a kick. Your partner kicks and you are supposed to block, pivot, and punch back. Then it is your turn to kick and your partner's turn to respond. In this scenario, what do you want from your partner? You want someone who will force you to be good, and not let you reinforce techniques that are poorly executed, miss their mark, or are ill-timed.

When it is your turn to be the aggressor, you need to be a good partner. Is your role to be a kick, a punch, or maybe do a combination of moves? Know your role. Execute your technique with the same conviction and intent as you would defend it. Be focused. Care.

There are some situations where the partner's role is simply to maintain their position, to be a target that doesn't move. In Tang Soo Do this is true for our Long Distance Fighting techniques. Be a good target. Make sure your stance is correct, your hands are in a strong blocking position and your eyes are focused. By the way, even when standing in as a target, it's a good idea to stay engaged and alert - this is, after all, a karate class.

You want; no - you need your partner to push your abilities, to make you improve your techniques, your distance control, and your timing. It is only right, fair, and appropriate that you provide the same benefit when you are the partner. Be the best partner you can be.


  1. Remember how you would practice with the the camera and VCR. Would that help a student practice? My Nikon will take 4 images a second and that means 4 stills or more to study. Mmm, What do you think?

  2. Well, I think one would hard pressed to top M. Meredith's metaphors.

    There is an extensive Shotokan karate site out there called Shotokan Way. I like to follow Shotokan karate because Shotokan stylists tend to be very big on technique and rigorous in their strive to adhere to the traditional karate principles.

    At that site, there is an extensive article on free sparring by an widely acknowledged European Karate Champion and high-ranking Shotokan sensei. His piece is along the lines of the TSD article article. Let me say I agree with the necessity for free sparring and it's an important part of the Tang Soo Do curriculum.

    As one might expect, however, I differ from the views of the Shotokan expert / article's author. He is off the theology that the standard traditional karate curriculum cannot produce a good fighter without free sparring. He uses the illustration of another higher ranking Shotokan Black belt who can perform kata and 1-step sparring very competently.

    This high-ranking Black belt was visiting the Champions class, and the champion requested that the visitor spar--free sparring--with another class member. Wouldn't you know it, the Visiting black-belt couldn't score a single hit and repeatedly retreated in fear in the face of the opponent's offense. The experience, according to the Shotokan Sensei / European Karate Champion, proves the that jiyu kumite (free sparring re Shotokan) is what makes traditional karate effective. I DISAGREE.

    I do agree that the best karate training across the board is the mixture of basics, forms, sparring. The sparring experience is necessary for reasons M. Meredith has placed here in the blog, which the high ranking European Shotokan Karate sensei concurs.

    My point is somehow traditional karate training was lost on the visiting higher-ranked Shotokan Black belt if he can't put up the least in the way to defend himself. I'll use timing to illustrate my perspective.

    Fighting instructors, particularly in MMA and sport fighting refer to 'timing' as a critical skill. Timing is referred to by M. Meredith and the Shotokan Sensei. The suggestion is made that timing can only be developed by live sparring, and should include a resisting opponent. To be perfectly honest, I never ever thought of this throughout my traditional martial arts career.

    Why? Because the timing of a punch or maneuver is what we see in the way of physical result. I believe M. Meredith and the Shotokan Authority are saying we have to develop the right reflexes for the fighting technique to work.

    I submit it's not timing that traditional karateka are to be developing, it's mental discipline. It's the discipline to put your body in the right place at the right time in the right way. The output of successful of traditional karate is threefold--of which 'timing' is one part. The driver is the mind, acting consciously and deliberately.

    How does traditional karate do so? To borrow M. Meredith's maxim; "mind-body union." The visiting higher ranking Shotokan Black-belt got 'slaughtered' in the European Shotokan sensei's free sparring exercise, not because he only emphasized kata and kihon--BUT IMHO, because he 'sleep-walked' through the Shotokan karate curriculum learning & perfecting a physical performance.
    Without the essential traditional karate skill base of mind-body union--he stumble to defeat against a disciplined opponent.

    Shotokan karate is huge on perfecting basic technique. What's not conveyed more often than not, is it that it's not the physical form of the technique that key--it's Ed Parker's Maxim of Control.

    Perfect physical form on its own is hollow and ineffective by traditional karate standards. This is free sparring lesson that the Shotokan Way karate class (cited above) learned that day.

    >> It's perfect physical form that's powered by strong mental discipline that counts.


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