Three weeks ago I posted a video about making your own makiwara and discussed the importance of hitting stuff. Since then, a related idea has taken hold of my thinking. Those of us who train alone not only need to make time to hit things; we need to get hit as well. This may seem harder to pull off without a training partner but all it takes is some creativity and a clear idea of the overriding goal.
Let’s start with the goal. When you train alone, and kata is your primary exercise, it is easy to become focused on developing the exactness, or even beauty, of technique, and forgetting that these are life protection movements. It is vitally important that you find ways to connect your solo exercises with the act of fighting a real person. This can be done mentally (see The Power of the Mind II), but it is also good to feel, and react to some actual impact as well.
In order to get banged around this week, I came up with four exercises that worked well. The first was to do front rolls, five or six times continuously, then pop up after the last one and run through a random kata. Don’t worry about bowing, or your starting position. If you are like me, you will be off balance and dizzy when you rise from the floor, and the first techniques you do will be part of a greater effort to regain your equilibrium. In other words, these opening moves will matter a lot if you are going to take control of the situation. Your kata will take on a new urgency as you react to these adverse conditions.
In order to “get hit”, I simply turned my back to a wall and slammed myself backwards, allowing my body to feel a nice solid impact before bursting off the wall with techniques. This drilled mimicked being pushed or hit from behind, or pushed against a wall. In each case, I worked on blocks and punches but kata could be used here too. Since I have access to a heavy bag, I next gave it a big push, let it swing well out of center, and then stepped into the space that it had occupied, with my back to the bag. When it swung back it knocked me off my position and I was forced to regain balance while spinning into a series of strikes. Lastly, I did the same exercise with the bag but allowed it to hit me in the chest and knock me back on my heels.
Each drill will force you to deal with balance, breathing, and impact issues that mimic what you might feel when attacked. But the impact drills in particular reminded me of the importance of developing body armor, something my sensei has discussed with me many times. Your body armor is your physical toughness and it takes the form of a relaxed tension throughout your limbs and torso. The goal is to be relaxed enough to move freely but with just enough tension to absorb various blows without disturbing your equilibrium. Too much tension and you get knocked over, or pushed off balance; too little tension and your breath get’s knocked out of you. The best techniques are relaxed, with tension only when and where it needs to be (such as at the moment of contact with a punch). But body armor needs to be present at all times if it is going to protect you from the blows you didn’t see coming or were unable to deflect. And, let’s be realistic; you are probably going to absorb some blows in a fight, even if it goes your way. Getting hit reminds us of the need for this and hopefully we can take that experience, and that sense of relaxed tension, and make it a mental and physical part of all our training.
P.S. Don’t know how to roll… this video may help.