The rituals the surround the Dojo are becoming more comfortable too. Bow on the way in to the Dojo, formal bowing in to start the class, bow when you leave the floor, bow to your opponent/partner, bowing out at the end of class, bow when you leave the Dojo. There’s a lot of bowing. The terms the instructors use are starting to make sense. Rei (bow), Yoi (ready), Hajime (begin), Yame (stop). I can even count to 10 in Japanese now (Grace has been teaching me!).
This week though, something new is coming. I’m about to be introduced to a whole new element of karate training. Kumite.
Kumite is karate sparring, it’s where you use the techniques you learn in your Kihon and Kata against an actual opponent. So. Let me get this straight. You want me to actual (try to) HIT someone. Not just “someone” either. You want me to actually (try to) hit this person here. This person with a BLACK BELT in karate. Me, with my lowly yellow tip? Oh my. This could end badly (for me, clearly).
In my short time as a Karate-Ka, the single most important thing I’ve learnt about facing higher ranks in Kumite (which I didn’t know back then) is that they have much worse things than a battalion of punches and kicks at their disposal. To start with, they don’t even use those at all. For the most part, they just LOOK at you. Trust me, it’s enough. The thing about that look is – there’s no defence against it.
They’re just standing there. Looking at you. WAITING for you to do something. It’s like that moment of silence in a conversation. That big long ugly pause that needs to be filled. And if you’re the least confident person in that conversation then 99% of the time it’s going to be you that feels the need to fill it. Thus it is with Kumite. You're standing there thinking “I’m supposed to be doing something, what should I do? Okay, I’ll try a few punches”. There it is. That’s what they’ve been waiting for. You see, the other part of that look is probably the most dangerous part for you. Not only are they waiting with that look, they’re WATCHING. Really watching. And what they see is the intention of what you’re going to do, way before you actually do it.
You’re a karate newbie. Try as you might, your intention is written all over your body movement like a blinking neon sign for any more experienced karate-ka to see. There in lies the rub. They’re waiting for you to do something and as soon as you think about what you’re going to do, they’ve got you. They’re waiting for it. There’s no hope. Even when you do start sparring, should by some miracle of spacial freakishness you manage to squeeze a hit in , you know that two seconds later you’re pretty much going to regret it. They’re gonna let you know that you might have snuck through once, but once is all you get.
So, what can you do about it? Well, get better at karate, clearly. Learn to not telegraph your intent with your body movement. Learn to anticipate your opponents intent from their body movement.
I’ve been pondering lately whether if I didn’t actually do anything and just stood there and LOOKED too would I ever have to spar with anyone again? I have to confess I don’t actually know. I always give into that look and crack first. Obviously it’s going to be a while before I’m not the one that needs to fill the silence. I live in hope.