Saturday, September 02, 2006

karate strikes, karate wimps and "finishing" karate techniques

Recently I was watching some movie clips based on the life of Kyokushinkai founder Masutatsu Oyama, known also as "Mas" Oyama. These clips depicted him engaged in one of the many things that made him famous: killing bulls using his bare hands. Thinking back on the many biographies that I have read about him I was impressed by his dedication to karate and his development of awesome striking power. Having "grown up" in kyokushin karate-do I had marvelled at pictures of Mas Oyama's heavily calloused fists and learned that striking is serious business. In class we would wear thick gloves and protective helmuts to spar in so as not to hurt each other, but also to allow us to practice really using our karate to strike.

Now as far as karate class and karate sparring are concerned, there are generally two schools of thought: The first is to wear protective equipment. This allows for strong attacks and real defenses. It permits karateka to work close to their full speed and power without injuring their partner. However, it also is hard to work on proper technique with a gloved up hand and it makes one a little over-confident in their own ability to "take a hit."

The second school of thought is the way in which I practiced Goju-Ryu Karate-do ; no pads, but at a generally reduced speed. Techniques had to be crisp. Combinations and good strategy were a must. However, in order for it to be safe, one had to "pull" their punches. This has the unfortunate side-effect of conditioning someone to always pull their techniques when using them.

The problems with this method were underlined by a story told to me by a friend and a harsh critic of the martial arts. He explained that several members of a karate club on his street were practicing late one night and when they finished up and began to go their own way, were accosted by several ne'er-do-wells. While they were fairly evenly matched up in terms of numbers, according to my friend, the karate students "couldn't hit."

Let us please remember the essential element of striking power in our practice. If your school adheres to the karate practice of "pulling punches" you may want to suggest to your sensei(teacher) that you incorporate some striking exercises (ie, punching bags, makiwara, board breaking, et cetera) to give your karate techniques and karate practice the "finishing touches."

*While there are many other kinds of kumite(sparring) practice in karate, these two are the most popular. Others include stopping at the clothing with each strike which helps create intense control over each technique (but also may cause problems in an emergency), promised sparring (with set techniques and responses done at varying speeds), and full- contact (which limits the amount of effective practice time in a lesson) to name a few.