It is important to have commitment in the techniques and strategies we practice while training. But there are cases that over-committing may be detrimental to the effectiveness of a technique, combination or strategy. We should be prepared to enact contingency plans when warranted.
Although we may practice some types of contingency plans occasionally in our training, I believe that most people would probably benefit from thinking about it a little more. At least a few times within my articles (and often in my classes) I have emphasized the links between kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring), as well as to self-defense application. The idea of contingency planning also relates to all these forms of training. But I suspect that this link is not very clearly explained by many instructors nor thoroughly understood by even some advanced Shotokan practitioners. (I think this may be one area that some other styles of karate and other martial arts, for that matter, may in a way be superior to Shotokan as taught at most dojo).
There are many examples of such contingency plans found within kata, for example. Why follow up a kick with a punch –or even two or three –as sometimes occurs in kata? If we kick the attacker, shouldn’t that be enough to do the job? Certainly if we are in fairly good shape we can at least finish the job with one punch after the kick, right? Perhaps these punches are simply training exercises. But they can also be thought of as “what-ifs”, for in case the previous technique(s) doesn’t/don’t do what was intended.
I think it is worth recalling here a quote from the famous karate instructor Itosu Anko: “In karate training one must determine whether the interpretation of a movement is suitable for defense or for cultivating the body.” Some techniques may be performed in relatively impractical combinations that are not meant to be applied directly as-is in a self-defense situation. We should be able to mix-and-match techniques in numerous variations to best prepare for potentially unlimited scenarios.
During kihon training, we typically focus on a single technique at a time, or a combination that is predetermined. But this does not mean that we should completely forsake the idea of things not going to plan. Even a “sure thing” sometimes does not work out as planned (I can give you some analogies in my investment experience, but that may be too painful for me J ). When practicing a punch, for example, we should be thinking about a) what might happen if it becomes impractical to follow through with the punch partway into the technique and b) what should be done after if the technique is not successful.
As an example of how one can examine contingency planning in action, consider a basic maegeri-oizuki (front kick, step-in punch) combination. What if the opponent moves back further than expected after the kick and the distance turns out to no longer be ideal for a basic oizuki? The attacker can add a shift during the punch, or use an additional step, or change to a longer-range attack to follow the kick. If the opponent moves to the side or does not move back as much as anticipated during/following the kick, other changes can be made, including changing the technique to a new one, abbreviating the technique, adding a technique or retreating without completing the punch. There are many possible changes that can be made to the original plan if needed. With the vast library of techniques, movements and strategies we have to choose from, the options are practically unlimited.
While I do not think that we need to spend time on this in every training session, particularly when the standard way works out fine, I do think it is worth thinking about from time to time. Total commitment to a single technique certainly has its merits. But if one is totally committed to something that does not work out, the outcome could be devastating.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published October 2003)