Sunday, 31 January 2016

Psychological Kamae

One of the things that is really critical in jiyu-kumite (free sparring) is one’s kamae (en-guard position) in both attack and defense. A good ‘physical kamae’ means that you can effectively defend yourself  with minimal movement and that you can attack directly from your position (without adjustment). For example, your kizami-zuki travels (from where it is—in the shortest possible trajectory) directly to your opponents jinchu). With good maai (distancing) and speed, this puts your opponent into a worse case scenario, i.e. – “…like someone who is tailgating a car without knowing that its break lights aren’t working”. Put another way, the kamae does not telegraph anything—when attacking—and is perfectly set for defense. There are of course variations  in one’s ‘physical kamae’, nevertheless, this is the base kamae from which everything else follows.

On Monday night at JKA Oita, after finishing my kata practice at the back of the class, I called over two of the black belts to join me at the rear of the dojo. I’d watched their jiyu kumite and decided to help them with their respective kamae.

Their kamae were too low and fists pointed incorrectly, which meant they were highly exposed against an opponent with a correct kamae. Likewise, sometimes they made their kamae too high. Accordingly, I fought with them both and demonstrated the incorrect kamae (that they were using up until this session). In this way, they could compare and contrast between what they have been doing, and what I was showing them. I also taught them how the kamae most effectively changes according to maai, their size, the opponent(s) size(s), positioning/angles and circumstance; furthermore, the criticality of unsoku/ashi-hakobi (footwork) in relation to these aspects.

Straight away, from their expression and determination in practice, they ascertained that my point was essential: as when they fought me they could not hit me, nor realize my attacks until they felt them land. Of course, I attacked with full-technique; however—as always—I did not cause any damage.

After several rounds of the jiyu-kumite with them both, and with each other, their defense capacities were unsurprisingly  improved, as were their attacks. Actually, their jiyu-kumite was 100% better. Overall, it was great for me to see them enhance their defensive and offensive abilities; moreover, the smiles that followed. I have a saying when I teach, “the best compliment is when one themselves knows that they have improved”.

To wrap up, I’d just like to stress a couple of things. Firstly and generally speaking, simple matters count! Funakoshi Gichin Sensei stated that “Victory and defeat hangs on simple matters”. Indeed, this goes far beyond Karate-Do: it is a life-skill. If you not only do the simple things right, but do them extremely well, you are putting yourself in a strong position of chance (for whatever you are trying to achieve). The alternative of this is to have ‘very little chance’.  Needless to say, relying on ‘lucky chances’, ‘flukes’, ‘easy circumstances’, or the like, is not an intelligent way to achieve any goals: or live life for that matter! Success is always about hard work; determination; entering into uncomfortable places—outside of one’s comfort zone—in order to go to the next level; and, of course, plenty of guts/strong spirit.

Secondly, and more specifically pertaining to your kamae: it is utterly essential to have self-awareness. What I mean here is that often we think/believe we are doing the most simple things well, when in actuality we are not. In reality, this is a very human thing, and is ‘a work in process for everyone’. Of course, no one is exempt from this. Certainly, in the case of ‘the simple matter of having a good kamae’, there is no time to waste, especially if you are like me and you care about your dental expenses.

In this regard, even more than a physical kamae seek a psychological kamae; that is, a mental state that defends you from overlooking your weaknesses and/or the corrosion of your skills. This psychological kamae requires: (1)  correct and adequately thorough technical knowledge; (2) awareness—in actual training—based on this knowledge; and (3) consistent physical practice, which is the only way any value can be gained: from the two aforementioned points.

© André Bertel. Oita, Japan (2016).

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