Friday, January 02, 2015

The Reluctant Point-Fighter

The attitude of destroying the enemy with one cut is based on the attitude of "going in" to the attack. If not, your spirit is lacking and your resolve is less than complete. You must always close in on the enemy regardless of the indications of the enemy's strength.

— Miyamoto Musashi

In karate and tae kwon do sparring, scoring is kept by counting hand and foot strikes that make contact as points. The point system came about from the idea that atemi (vital strikes) are indeed lethal. Obviously real atemi are prohibited in sportive matches, and as such point-matches morph into a game of glorified tag. What happens is that players tend to fight from exaggerated fighting ranges (ma-ai) with hands held low (especially in TKD), and at times not fully committing to techniques, especially kicks. Combatants are trying to score, but are especially leery of getting countered or "tagged." For these reasons, a point-match is nothing like a realistic fight.

This is clearly a problem if you fancy your art as a viable means of self-defense. In sportive arts like boxing, wrestling and judo, players are fully committed to hitting, getting hit, throwing and getting taken down, even in practice drills. Realize that how you train on the mat is how it happens in real life.

Somebody once told me that the difference between black belts and those at the lower echelon was really a degree of self-interest. "Black belts don't care," he said. What he meant was the BBs aren't concerned with the outcome of committing to a combination of techniques against the opponent. They're more centered in the here-and-now. That means visualizing the attack and following through without being hindered with the mental baggage of a counter. Still, judges don't want to see matches that look like a train wreck or game of chicken.

The bane of the point-match isn't whether or not a technique is so devastating that it can maim or kill, but the aversion to being hit in return. That doesn't mean to disregard defensive techniques completely during a match. Just don't be so mindful of your opponent's strategy that it impinges your game plan. The Japanese concept of kobo-ichi is just another way of saying the old adage "the best defense is a good offense."

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