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Opinion:Being Too Careful

By Christopher Caile

When we are beginners in the martial arts, it's important when practicing with a partner to be careful with our techniques so we don't cause injury. However, above a certain level being too careful can have the opposite effect.

It was 1961 and I was living in Tokyo, Japan studying karate under Mas Oyama. Oyama's Kyokushinkai organization was small then. His main training hall was a former dance hall in an old wooden building in a section of Tokyo known as, Ikibukuro and about 30 of us would meet there to train three afternoons a week.

Training was difficult, almost brutal, especially freefighting - bare knuckle without any protective equipment or groin cups - and targets weren't limited. As a new student being initiated into the system I suffered daily - knocked down, hit in the groin, the face. I was always hurt. And some of the black belts were sadistic.

My first day in the dojo Oyama took me aside and introduced me to a young Japanese student by the name of Tadashi Nakamura. Soon we became friends and met before training. Neither spoke the other's language well, so we used our hands, drew on napkins and each had a dictionary. Gradually we learned to communicate in our unique hybrid language of gestures, words and smiles. Over time he became my best friend in Tokyo.

When training, however, Nakamura (then a second degree black belt) ran a tight ship. He taught class when Oyama wasn't present. And when freefighting Nakamura never let up. His roundhouse kick to my stomach landed so often and so hard that you would think it was surgically connected. He was one of the most gifted in technique, and it seemed I could never get away from his fists, his sweeps or kicks.

One day, after a number of months of training, we were sitting having soba (noodles in a broth) before practice. I ask him, "Nakamura, why do you always hit me so hard?" His answer surprised me. "Because I am your friend," he replied.

It took me a long time to understand what he said, but gradually I realized that when he hit me in practice, it was a measured hit. I would be knocked down, or the air knocked out of me, but unlike with others, I was never seriously hurt. Others, at times tried to injure you, and did.

Over time I realized he was right. If you are training in a martial art, after a certain level you aren't helping your partner if you are too soft or too weak in power in your attacks.

Here I am not advocating full contact, or any specific type of training. That is the subject of another column. But what I am saying is that in almost any art, when two black belts are facing each other in a drill and one is asked to execute a punch or other offensive technique, you are doing your partner a disservice if it is too weak, slow or incorrectly aimed.

I have seen this in countless martial arts schools, in karate, aikido, judo, kung fu, etc. A partner does a practice attack and it seems as if it is out of some tai chi school -- slow and too far away. Often times, if it is a straight punch to the head, the punch is aimed to the side. This doesn't teach your partner anything.

While you should never purposely endanger a partner with a technique, the techniques should be adjusted in speed, strength and distance to the other's capability and level. This way they grow and learn to deal with stronger and more realistic attacks.

If, however, a student gets used to dealing only with half-hearted, unrealistic attacks, he or she will be unprepared for the real world where attackers aren't so cooperative. It also affects the attacker too because if his attacks are continually slow or ineffective, the student is training himself to execute techniques in this way. Remember the old saying, "You become what you practice."

A good friend on mine often recounts the story of a New York City black belt in aikido he knew. After practice one night the student returned to his van parked on the street and found someone rummaging around inside. The back doors to the van were open and the student confronted the man inside. The man turned and came out of the van with a knife in his hand. The aikido student was stabbed in the chest and died hours later. He had been unable to defend against a basic knife forward thrust -- something he had probably practiced thousands of times before in the dojo. A tragic example of being truly unprepared.

So when you are facing another black belt don't be a weak partner -- make your partner really react and defend. This is being a true friend.

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opinion, editorial opinion, teaching martial arts, self-defense, Tadashi Nakamura, Mas Oyama, martial arts learning, learning martial arts

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