The first thing we need is honesty, just with ourselves.


A couple of my students recently had their first experience of sparring with strangers, we were guests at a local Karate Dojo.

From the outset both of the boys were nervous, to be expected, and it was clear that they did not get control of their nervousness as the evening progressed.

I cannot say that I was surprised, they did not have the tools.

Like many people early in their training they discovered that they had been training the wrong aspect of the art.

The big question is whether or not they will see this and change the direction of their involvement, or deny it and look for easy answers, or even worse abandon the quest altogether.

Many people in the Martial Arts play at their style instead of training it, always looking for the next technique, the next easy answer.

In Western Boxing, there is a well-known saying … “Boxers don’t fight, they box”.

It is an intrinsic part of the “Sweet Science”

What this refers to is being in control mentally, remaining composed and patient, allowing our training to find the answer, staying responsive and not becoming reactive.

Thinking not brawling.

The day after our visit one of the guys texted me to ask for extra help with his sparring, this is encouraging because it shows a desire to continue and get better.

The thing is we do not get better at something we are not very good at by just doing more.

If we are drowning do we think the best answer is more time in the water?

In sparring or fighting, there will come a moment when for whatever reason our head is empty, we are all at sea with no ideas, a place that even crusty old sailors dread.

This is where the difference becomes obvious between those that have trained and those that only played.

There are no answers when our head is empty.

But how do we train to keep our head full?

The first thing we need is honesty, just with ourselves.

Why was our head empty?

Where was our training?

Most students spend the majority of their time training the physical aspect of their style, they think this is what sets their style apart from the other styles.

But of course, it doesn’t, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick, attacking or defending, no matter what style we train it’s the same idea.

Learning these things is playing at fighting.

Training is the thinking behind the style.

Sparring is no more than an opportunity to make physical our styles Martial Mentality in a situation that is not completely in our control, so to improve at sparring we need to improve our Martial Mentality.

But what does this mean, Martial Mentality, and how do we improve it?

Depending on the style, Forms or Kata help us understand what our body is meant to do from the perspective of that style.

What we learn in Forms or Kata are where we go to when we do not know where to go.

Where do we stand, how do we move, what is the overriding plan or approach specific to our style and how do we reactivate it?

How does our body feel when we are still?

How does our body feel when we are moving?

How does our body feel when we are doing things correctly.

This is our ground zero that we return to when we lose the plot.

Knowing how our body should feel when it is working correctly will make it obvious when we are working incorrectly, even when we are under pressure.

It is usually easier, and far more useful, to identify what we are doing wrong than it is to identify what we are doing right.

However robotically doing Forms or doing Kata is not the answer, they become pointless dances if we do not understand the thinking behind them, we end up playing Forms or Kata instead of training them.

We end up back in the water.

Research is essential if we wish to sharpen our Martial Mentality, firstly our style of course but it should not only be our style, understanding why other styles do what they do is equally important.

I am writing this before I have had a chance to talk with my guys about how they lived the experience, that will be this evening, I am looking forward to it.





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