Friday 3 September 2021


青柳 (SEIRYU) Kata

 Some karate instructors love to cite Hick’s Law. I will address this today firstly (and briefly) by explaining it; secondly, by stating its merits; and thirdly and finally, by pointing out its value but, also, its incompleteness (but still pragmatic importance). Before I do those three things, I want to state here that unlike some, I’m not ‘really into’ Hick’s Law, nor am I against it. In my opinion, it is ‘a very simple theory that has great value for the masses’; thereby, irrespective of one’s ‘level of liking’, it is an extremely useful lense. I believe that this is the best way for Budoka to understand Hick’s Law (whilst keeping it in context).


So, what is it? Hick’s Law (also sometimes referred to as the Hick-Hyman Law) was established by American psychologists Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman. Hicks Law is the basic idea that proposes “…the more choices an individual is given, the decision process will take a longer time for the individual”. Put another way, increasing the number of choices naturally increases the decision time logarithmically. OK, so on to its merits…


The theoretical value of Hick’s Law: There is no question that this theory has value for Karateka (in fact all self-defense/fighting arts), especially in the context of responding to a sudden and violent attack (which is the whole point). Over the years I have seen so many different instructors demonstrate and teach—as everyone who reads this will have—'vast arrays of responses to various attacks and self-defense scenario’s’. As you know, there are ‘so many techniques, movements and tactic’s’. Obviously, Hicks Law would say that this is a disadvantage which, for the most part, is undeniably true. But here’s the thing: this it is only a disadvantage ‘for most people’, not everyone, and this is where we have a slight problem! Of course, any law is not perfect.


Hick’s Law covers ALMOST EVERYONE: A weakness in this theory is that it only accounts for beginners, intermediate, and ‘probably a significant percentage of practitioners with higher levels of skill’. Nonetheless, it fails to account for the real elite-level budoka.


I need to expand on this, as it seems some people get confused about ‘what an elite level of skill is’ in Budo Karate. Firstly, allow me to confirm ‘what it isn’t’, which greatly establishes the void between budo and sports/recreational/demonstration karate. An elite level in budo karate is “…not only being able to do precise and sharp movement’s”. No, this is just movement! This is a performance. Elite skill is where someone can “…use precise karate movements to rapidly and effectively respond to an attacker (or attackers) who is/are both uncooperative and seriously attempting to cause physical harm”. This is ‘movement with substance’; that is: “kihon, kata, and kumite skill with maximum effect in the real world”.


Taken as a whole, budo karateka—at this level—go well outside of the boundaries of Hick’s Law ‘as they can, and will, spontaneously respond with whatever is effective’. At that point, they can pretty much respond with anything without thought.

So, what can we learn from Hick’s Law? Well, in my opinion, we can establish that, the first and on-going technical aim of karateka must be to develop a handful of techniques/skills to a very high level. That is, to develop a few highly volatile and reliable waza ‘specifically optimal for the individual’s physique, strength, health, and so on’.


Unambiguously, this is ‘the best that most practitioners will ever be able to do’, and Hick’s Law helps us to see this fact, which is great! Thank you, Hick’s Law. A cup of realism. Translating this into real world application… To me, this means that “…instructors are cheating their students out of effective self-defense if they don’t prioritize this point in training”. The reality is that most instructors are mostly training others for the grading syllabus, competition success, or some weird self journey of 'feelings'. This is not true karate. True karate is ichigeki-hissatsu. It is not a joke, sport, nor fake show of moves. But, of course, it can be. The question is what people want. The real or the charade? Always keep this in mind if you are seeking TRUE KARATE. 


Lastly, I need to add that even for those who transcend the boundaries of Hick’s Law—or will in the future—they must still go through the process of training just a few choices/options/waza to the highest level.


I hope this article helped you realistically see where Hick’s Law sits in relation to Karate and Budo in general. Osu, André


© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

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