Don’t you just love it when two ideas both seem right and each seems to contradict the other. Last week’s post, Snap out of it, started out as the introduction to this week’s post. But, as I wrote, I realized that there were two separate ideas forming and each needed it’s own page. In a nutshell, last week was about considering your opponent and not your performance while training kata by yourself. But what about not considering your opponent at all, especially when he is right in front of you?

The seeds of this idea were planted at a recent training session and they have really taken hold of my thinking. While attempting to strike/block an attacking arm, I was corrected over and over again because I wasn’t relaxed enough in my technique. When I finally got a strike right I noticed two things immediately; I felt as if I had done nothing at all but my uke/teacher was in so much pain that I thought he was faking it to make fun of me. How could a technique so seemingly effortless and relaxed have such a profound effect? The complete answer to that question is something I will be working on for a long time to come. But a part of it, I believe, is moving as if your opponent is not there at all.

Despite our best intentions, for most of us, the way we do our techniques alone in the air versus against an opponent is decidedly different. In the air we are relaxed, we fully extend our techniques, we use proper stance and correct breathing. With an opponent we prepare for the impact even as we deliver it. We either take an immobile stance or dance around on our toes. We strike the surface rather than hitting through the body. And we do all this to AVOID injury – to ourselves and to our training partners. This is not a completely bad thing, in practice, but it is a bad habit when it comes to a real fight.

But what if you fought as if your opponent wasn’t even there. What if your hand moved through the space his head occupied. What if your feet simply followed a path right through her body. This requires some fearlessness but it also makes a lot of moves work that don’t otherwise. Throws, and off-balancing techniques are much easier when you fully commit to the movement. If you don’t commit you often find yourself in a wrestling match, a battle of strength against strength. Strikes are much more painful and debilitating when delivered without regard for your opponent.

The key here is not to be more violent or more aggressive but simply less concerned about the physical presence of the other person. Relaxed techniques work in this manner whereas, when we think too much about the impending collisions of limbs and bodie we tense up.

How to safely train this way with colleagues is difficult to say. It is important that we don’t hurt the people who agree to “play” with us. Good protective gear can help but my first suggestion is to try these ideas out in simple controlled settings such as working a single block or strike. What is most important is to recognize how you change what you do to protect yourself and others. When you are aware of the tension in your body, you are better able learn what relaxed feels like.

As before, I find myself coming back to an idea that all of us who train alone should remember. Kata, and related exercises, allow us to train without regard for anyone’s safety. If practiced correctly, they offer us a great deal more realism than kumite or partner drills ever can. The key is to fight this way too, if and when we ever have to.