Technique of the Week (November 1st, 2009)
Kyoshi Robert Mackay, Ueshiro Midtown Karate Dojo, NYC
Below is a re-work of some thoughts that were generated at the April 2009 Black Belt class in the Ueshiro Midtown Dojo. They are offered as a starting point for discussion, not as the "final word."
Thoughts on Sparing, Kata and Self Defense
Conventional wisdom often holds that kata and kumite are the core complementary elements of traditional karate training, the two pillars of the peaceful yet proficient warrior. Considering the controversy and confusion surrounding kumite, however, it may be more helpful to consider martial arts training through three separate skills: Sparing, Kata and Self defense.
While training in kata inevitably improves both free-style sparring and self defense skills, the opposite is NOT true. I.e., training in sparing will inhibit your self-defense skills and self-defense training will cause you to foul out in sport kumite.
The two-second pause between moves in kata does NOT work in free-style sparing because rules prohibit us from actually stunning our opponent. The stun / two-second pause / kill combinations in kata, however, DO work in self defense, especially if the two-second pause is used to optimize proper distance, foundation and commitment before delivering the final blow.
The most effective ready position for ju-kumite is the notorious passive stance. It offers superficial protection of the torso and face against superficial attacks. Revealing one's willingness to fight is inconsequential since the entire premise of the match is to engage in a competition for points.
The most effective ready position for self-defense is the yoi position used in pre-arrange fighting, the pinan kata and gojushiho. It is extremely stable and communicates a willingness to hold one's ground. White belts and higher are equally comfortable using the stance to step back and defend as they are to move forward and strike. Keeping the hands lowered lulls the opponent into thinking we are unprepared or unwilling to defend ourselves. Most importantly, this ready position becomes engrained in us as the starting point for ending an altercation in a maximum of three moves, regardless of whether we attack first or defend.
The attached table highlights the substantial differences between sparring, kata and self-defense training.
All these concepts are elegantly described and illustrated with practical examples in Hanshi's Okinawan Karate Question and Answer Book and "Building Warrior Spirit with Gan, Soku, Tanden, Riki"