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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about an impending demonstration that I was practicing for, and how this change of focus was bringing new ideas to light in my training (see A Rare Performance). The demo is behind me now. I don’t have anything major to report other than that it went fine and people applauded. What I may not have mentioned was that the demo was part of a larger tournament, mostly for children and teenagers. I spent most of my time judging various events, playing referee in sparring matches, and handing out trophies and ribbons.

The kids were great. The day was fun. The big surprise, however, was what I learned from watching hundreds of young people and how important that lesson is for me, and possibly for you.

After hours of judging both empty-hand and weapons katas as well as other exercises, demos, and drills, one consistent mistake seemed prevalent in the majority of participants. Almost all of them had their head down, and they demonstrated virtually no awareness of their surroundings. The reason for this became perfectly clear to me; they were focusing on what they were doing. Whether it was because they were trying to remember the forms, or simply make each kick, punch, and block perfect, their attention was completely on themselves. Some were better than others but they all lacked a sense of external conflict – there was no real threat in their minds and no need to look up from what they were doing.

Young people can be forgiven lots of things and I am the forgiving type. But those of us adults who train with a goal of life-protection, have got to do better. And, I can say from personal experience, that I have been just as guilty of having my head down as these kids were. This was pointed out to me by an instructor not so long ago while I was working on a jo kata. Every time a struck at a leg, there I was looking down at the point of contact. In real life, these are mistakes we cannot afford.

If you want to get a good sense of how dangerous this is, try watching the steering wheel while you are driving. Or better yet, look at the pedals every time you change gears. Taking one’s eyes off the road for even a second can be fatal (no texting while driving!) and why should this be any different in a fight. We have to keep a real awareness of our whole opponent, and our entire surroundings, or we will miss the obvious attacks that defeat us.

Allowing your head to drop is an especially easy mistake to make when you train alone. The lack of other people to work with, watch, and be watched by, makes it very easy to have an exclusively internal focus. Be aware of this and, the next time you are training, pay particular attention to your head and eyes; keep them up. If you are still trying to memorize a new kata, make this upright posture a part of that memorization. Learn to do your techniques without watching them. Lessons like this can never be repeated enough as I can testify personally. The kids at the tournament provided me with a great reminder, and one more reason to get back to training. That is the best kind of trophy to take home.

For more ideas on this, here is a related post from last year.

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