If you practice martial arts, you’re gonna get hurt! Read that first sentence again; it’s important. Martial arts isn’t designed to be gentle, although there are some gentle aspects to it. But the reality is that if you join something like karate, you need to expect that you will, at some point, get struck, bruised, experience pain, pulled muscles, potential black eyes and even bleed. After all, this is a striking art, not cross-stitch (which can still make you bleed, FYI).
The reason I bring this up is because as time goes by, people as a whole seem to have grown in their “sensitivities” and that has often translated to the dojo environment. It surprises me, blows me away, actually how so many people join a martial art then are caught off guard or are surprised when they get hurt in some way, shape or form. I can’t necessarily speak for other styles and types but karate is a striking art and you should clearly expect that a strike may connect at some point while training.
When training in karate, we develop an eye distance to help us gauge the depth of a strike and whether or not it will impact with the surface. We usually train for striking in three ways:
1. A strike that doesn’t stop when it reaches the target. This one is usually done on a mat or a cushion as to not intentionally injure a partner. The idea is to develop one’s power and accuracy and acknowledging that stopping at the surface of a target may inadvertently cause one to pull back, reducing the strike’s effectiveness;
2. A strike that touches but doesn’t cause harm. This helps to develop accuracy and control and helps a partner to acknowledge and realize when contact has been made and whether their block was effective or not.
3. Stopping on a dime, regardless of strike power. Sensei would call this “eye distance,” and it refers to being able to execute a strike at full strength but stopping right at the surface of the target without striking it. This also plays into control and accuracy and is important when learning techniques in a controlled environment.
I’m getting pretty technical and for the purposes of this post, perhaps I needn’t be. But if you read that short list again, you’ll notice that the consistent terms in all three categories are control and accuracy. One could easily argue that in a real fight scenario, all accuracy and control goes out the window. One is basically just trying to survive. While this MIGHT be true, the control and accuracy we train for in the dojo helps to develop the muscle memory that we would carry into the street, if such an unfortunate incident ever occurred.
The important thing to remember is to respect your fellow students. Regardless of belt or rank, regardless of skill level, having respect for your partner/opponent and recognizing that accidents happen and never trying to o intentionally harm them will ensure a richer learning environment for all concerned. That being said, it’s important to recognize that even the most skilled and senior of students can slip and make mistakes. If you get struck, remember that this is a striking art and all part of the overall martial arts journey.
And if you strike someone while training, apologize sincerely and carry on with the exercise (unless your partner is unable to continue). Being humble shows greater strength than puffing out one’s chest and saying something like “you should’ve blocked!” Yes, maybe I should have. But mutual respect is how we all climb the martial arts ladder. Remember this, the next time you’re icing an injury or nursing a pulled muscle. It’s all part of the journey. You want injury-free? Go join a chess club. ☯️