The other day I was talking with a friend of mine who used to do MMA. He hasn’t trained, nor fought for about five years now. During the discussion I mentioned he should come train at my dojo and he sort of chuckled. Being friends I asked why he thinks I am being funny to which he replied “I have no use to train in something where I can’t hit the other person. All those air and pulled techniques won’t help anyone in self defense”. Well, let me tell you, my friend got a rude awakening, but in a friendly manner.
It seems this idea that, in Karate, we can’t hit anyone hard nor do we train to do so, if quite often one of the biggest misconceptions about our art. I have been training now for about 39 years and my training has crossed from no contact to full out contact. While it may be true that some schools teaching martial arts don’t allow any contact at all that is not the case with the majority of them.
During this conversation my friend pulled up a video of Fumio Demura Sensei (pictured in the featured image) doing a demonstration on Youtube. He said it was all Hollywood and none of that “type” of training would protect anyone. The video he was talking about can be found out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9om0OKuTxSE
Now, my friend and I have sparred before and he took some serious punishment and I got some bumps and bruises too but he knows better than to think I can’t handle myself. He realized what he was saying and immediately stated that he wasn’t including “me” in this because he knows I can “bang”. Then I smiled and said “Where do you think I learned how to “bang” as you put it? It was in Karate classes but I also learned control”. Not understanding where I was coming from I gave him a demonstration. I threw three strikes at him, allowing him to try and block them or get out of the way. Not once, not twice but all three times I landed my techniques on their mark and barely touched him. Then I had him hold up the pads. I did the same three strikes full power and he just stood there surprised because, had I wanted to hit him, he would have been pretty badly hurt and he knew it.
I explained that we train with control in the dojo because no one can train when they are injured. People also have day jobs and you can bet a salesman showing up to work with a black eye or missing tooth will probably lose their job. Then we talked about his MMA gym he trained in and he realized that they sparred with control there too and much for the same reasons. In the martial arts there is a common misconception about traditional arts and striking. Most people believe that the punch or kick we threw full power but just touched you with will be the exact same thing we do in real life…but it isn’t. We do hit pads full power, we do rounds on the bags full power and, when a student gets high enough in rank and has enough conditioning, we do hit the body solidly with our techniques. Most of my students will tell you that even our blocks to their strikes cause bruises and can create some serious damage if not done properly and carefully.
This is what CONTROL is when it comes to training but it is much more than that. The control we speak of in the dojo also means to control our ego, our temper and our emotions. It is really easy to lose your cool and nail a person in sparring but that is frowned on in a good dojo because it shows poor etiquette and a total lack of respect. The control we have when training, as to not harm our partner, is all about respect. We must remember that Karma is going to happen in the dojo. If you hit someone hard they will hit you hard back. If you beat someone up, you will get beaten up back. We also must remember that our training partners and students are parents who have jobs, kids who have school and sports. No one can train, go to their job or school and do well if they get hurt. The control spoken of in the dojo is not a farce. It is a necessity because, without it, people will get seriously hurt or worse…die.
Then you have all the “old school” people who like to talk about how brutal training was back in the 50’s, 60’s and so forth. I came into Karate about the time that sparring gear began to be introduced into classes and tournaments. It was not uncommon to show up to an event and see people only wearing handgear or less. Even though injuries were much more common back then they were still to pull punches and strikes to the head if possible. They also could hit the body hard but the goal was to beat your opponent, not kill them. Was training more brutal? Not really…it was more military with a lot more PT which made people believe it was “hard core”. I am old school in some of my ways and more progressive in others but one thing I can tell you no one comes to class to get beaten on or beaten up. Those types of schools actually never were mainstream anyway and often didn’t last very long.
When I do self defense demonstrations at events or during public speaking I take great care not to harm my partner. I go full speed and pull my techniques back but I do make light contact. Recently I posted a video on Instagram of me competing in self defense at a tournament. While the video got mostly favorable feedback I did have a couple of negative comments sent to me or posted. One area of the demo I through a full power round kick to my partner’s head. In the video it looks like I really nailed him. A person who was interested in training ridiculed me for this and said they would “never train with someone who would beat them up”. I immediately posted that the kick was controlled and my partner was not hurt…headgear makes a nice smack when it is hit. On the other spectrum I had some “tough guys” state it was all make believe and would “never work” in a real fight. To them I just laughed and shrugged it off because “when you don’t know…you don’t know”…which they never will with their attitudes. The video can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/Steven.TheKarateGuy.Franz/videos/10210211669501318/
When it comes to martial arts training our goal, as a Sensei, is never to harm our students but we also have to balance that with preparing them for real life encounters where they may need to use their training. When we throw techniques at our partners we do so with full speed, full power but we stop short of hurting them however we are always targeting vital areas. Vital means just that…an area that is vital for a person to live and function normally. So, to train full contact (not for sport mind you) would result in being sued and people dying in the dojo. That is just stupid thinking to teach that way but some have in the past and I am sure there are some garage dojos out there with the ego maniac filled instructor beating up his students daily that have survived.
You do not have to train full contact to be effective for self defense but you do have to train for self defense to be effective at it. Sport fighting, full contact or not, is not real life fighting. It is ruled based. In a real fight anything goes and even I have grabbed a pool cue and smacked a guy over the head with it in a real fight.
So, my friend, learned a valuable lesson and was all smiles afterwards. He went on to ask a ton of questions. Sadly he doesn’t live around my dojos but hopefully he checks out the three schools I gave him info on and signs up. He can no longer fight MMA because he has real world responsibilities as a Dad, husband and career man. While I enjoyed our conversation I will admit that I was sad on the inside because people believe all the stupid media hype about how traditional martial arts aren’t effective for self defense. Nothing could be further from the truth if you find a good school and good teacher…but that is the key…finding a good school and a good teacher.