In a set of classes taught by Amos Sensei in May 1999 (when the original version of this article was written), many points were discussed. Among these points were obvious ones that most of us had forgotten or become lazy about. Also, there were small details of which many had previously not heard. But, above all else, I think the most important thing mentioned at these classes was probably the idea that “looking pretty” should not be nearly as much of an ideal during training as focusing on the given point of that particular exercise.
It is one thing to hear some old ugly guy scream this. But Richard (Amos Sensei) has not only placed high numerous times in international competition in both kumite and kata– He has also worked as a model and had studied acting! He knows what it is like to “look pretty” and has done so more often than not. But he also knows from experience that there are times to get realistic and concentrate on what works. If fighting for your life, effectiveness is the main priority. Why should daily training be any different?
Is this to say that we should not concentrate on having good form? On the contrary! Good form should always be an ideal when training. But some people get lazy and restrict their form in an attempt to not overextend past their comfortable range of abilities. Sometimes, it is better to forget how we look to others and instead focus on what we are actually trying to accomplish.
Let’s take a simple training concept as an example: making a long stance. When stepping forward, back or turning, many high-ranking students (and even instructors) can often be seen using shorter stances than their juniors even when the instructor has told everyone that they should be making large steps. Some can legitimately blame age for their short stances. Many others claim that the more advanced practitioners no longer require the long stances to be powerful. Both of these may be true. But should we not continue to at least try to reach our maximum when the emphasis is on long stances?
Some may step out far but slide the back leg immediately forward, making a small stance. This may sometimes have its purpose. But for this training exercise, that may be considered simply cheating.
So then we stretch out into a long stance, but perhaps a bit slowly. Again some may blame a lack of flexibility as a limiting factor on the stance length. I am not advocating stretching to the point of tearing muscles. But let’s try to be as realistic as can be mustered. Now the question comes up: “How long is too long?” (For more on this subject, please see my 3/98 article.) If the training is focusing on a long stance, maybe there is no such thing as “too long.” In such a case, if the emphasis is to have a long stance at the expense of everything else, maybe it would be acceptable to lift the back heel, or even to fall over after the stretch. What is important is that the feeling is there; that the point of the exercise is being trained. The student stretching to her limit but falling over every other time may actually be getting more training out of the exercise than the guy who looks very nice and sharp with his snappy punches, but doesn’t bother to stretch into a long stance as instructed.
In this respect, trying to act cool and make a “pretty” technique will not serve the practitioner well. I understand that not everyone practices Karate for self-defense. But even those who are practicing as an art form or self-expressionism would probably have something to gain from trying to extend past “comfort zones” when focusing on a particular point in class.
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published June 1999)