Friday, October 28, 2011

"Gimme that kime" - Overcoming common training mistakes

I’ve been thinking a lot about timing, focus and energy work lately.  A few weekends ago, I attended a great martial arts seminar.  There were 5 Sensei in attendance, one of them being mine.  Each did an hour or so session on the mats.  Anyone who gets this type of exposure is lucky.  Each Sensei and style was different, so lots of new ideas and different techniques were explored.  It was a great experience. 

I had the opportunity to work with a bunch of people, many of which I had just met that day.  I worked with guys and gals, big people, small, short people, tall, young and old and even some with physical limitations.  They came from different clubs and styles.

I got to train in Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Aikido and a bit of Kung Fu and some Tai Chi thrown in for good measure.

I was honoured to be uke for my Sensei.  While I’ve gone to some seminars to be my Sensei’s uke in the past, usually I know the type of material he is going to demonstrate.  This time I did not.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but he beat the Sh_ _! out of me.  Actually, he didn't injure me, but for the first time in a long time, he demonstrated at much closer to full speed.  Not knowing what was coming, I realized just how vulnerable I was in the hands of my teacher.

Normally in training, he is far easier on me, no doubt to keep me injury free.  It was amazing to experience the technique fast.  I barely had time to break fall when I was taken down.  I didn’t feel any danger, but it was a real demonstration of the speed and effectiveness of the technique.  It was also a way to show the smaller and more timid attendees that Jiu Jitsu is the great equalizer when it comes to size and strength.  I am much bigger than my Sensei, but you’d never know it by the way he tossed me around.  I saw some light bulbs come on with some of the smaller and/or newer students.

Some of the general observations I made from watching a few dozen students of varying rank were:

  1. Most martial artists aren’t accustomed to pain or contact  

There were audible gasps in the audience when my Sensei connected with me, usually as a set up or softening technique.  We practice extensively on the importance of the disruption techniques.  If someone attacks you, simply blocking or evading may not be enough to allow you to really 'sink a technique'.  You must change your opponent's thought pattern and focus so that you can move on to your next technique.  They can’t be thinking about what you’re about to do next, or what they're about to do next.  The best way is to overload their senses with blinding pain.

We also make sure that techniques are applied effectively and to the maximum level without causing injury.  As I was up on my toes, or racing to tap since the pain was exquisite, you could see some startled eyes.  You have to know that any technique you apply really has the ability to disable, control or stop your opponent.  Going through the motions without discomfort will not give you the confidence to know that your stuff will work in a real encounter.

  1. Most martial artists do not understand movement and the body’s reaction to pain

This is a biggie.  I’ve written previously about being a good uke and how important it is to understand the body’s reaction to pain.  It’s equally important to understand that attacks are not static.  Attackers are moving when they are attacking.  They are also moving when you are defending, in response to what you are doing or to get away or to continue to attack.  You cannot just stand there assuming a single static attack is coming.  You must train to adjust to, or anticipate movement.  Your technique must be flexible.  What if your attacker doesn’t react as planned?  You can’t just stand doing nothing, especially if your intended defense didn’t work.  Remember, they’re still attacking.  They are still focused on hurting you.  When you train, understand that your technique may or may not work, and it will likely have to be adjusted as you go.  Decent training gives you options. 

As the attacker, make sure you attack realistically as well.  I’ve written about this previously, read here for one of the posts.

One way to improve this area is to experience actual pain (see point #1).  Used safely and responsibly, pain is a great teacher.  You’ll learn how your technique will work and your uke will learn just as much.  This way the uke you used to simulate punching in the stomach might actually double over somewhat instead of standing straight while you try to get to the next part.

  1. Most martial artist lack focus, or kime

There are the mechanical aspects of technique, but there other factors which can make or break a technique.  In any throwing or take down techniques, you need to focus on where you want the body to go.  Your movements, big or small, must direct, lead or force your opponent to where you want then.  The same applies to other techniques as well.  My style is heavily influenced by the small circle theory, and quite frankly, almost all our techniques contain some sort of circle, or a circular movement. 

The difference between average technique and technique that is really effective is focus.  Focus on completing the circle.  In a z-lock wrist lock, one hand pushes while the other pulls.  A common mistake is just to push.  This results in your opponent moving straight back.  It still hurts, but he/she gets away from you.  When you focus on pushing out with one hand and pulling in with the other, you complete the circle and your opponent ends up going down instead of back.  The pain is also intensified greatly. 

And when throwing, don’t just throw your opponent, complete the circle and drive them down into the ground at your feet, right where you want them.

This concept doesn’t only apply to Jiu Jitsu technique.  It can apply to striking arts as well.  Focus on direction, power and penetration.  For circular blocks, block and continue the block around and down, taking your opponent’s balance.

Personally I’m a believer of energy work. Projecting your energy into the technique. Around and down, in the example of the z-lock, increases the effectiveness as well.  Now whether or not using energy work is actually just a method of improving my timing and focus doesn’t really matter because it works. My technique is better when I project my chi.  (I don’t care if I take an aspirin or a placebo, as long as my headache goes away)

  1. Most martial artists don't know how to put it all together 

When we learn techniques, we break them down into their separate parts.  Once you’ve been doing it for a while, you need to put it all back together.  Your stance, low or high, your grab, your distraction, or your technique itself needs to be done as one.  You can’t have someone throw a punch at you and then:

Step #1 – Block
Step #2 – Grab
Step #3 – Distraction
Step #4 - Step in, drop into stance
Step #4 – Apply technique

Sadly, this often happens.  And it doesn’t take into account #2 in my list of observations.  It ignores movement.  You’ll also eat the next punch while your trying to complete each step.

Things have to be done together.  The block and grab or block and distract need to happen at the same time.  The stance and the technique sink and go on at the same time, using the stance (even a very high one) adds to the technique.  When you focus on it as one fluid movement, your skill will increase by leaps and bounds.  Focus and flow are two essential elements of effective martial arts technique.

It is not my intention for this article to be purely negative or to criticize anyone who was at the seminar.  I had a great time, learned a lot and worked with a bunch of talented martial artists.  I am only referring to what I see as trends or widespread issues in the world of martial arts.  I have, and still do, suffer from some of these issues myself.  Most often it’s a matter of losing focus so whenever I get sloppy, I remind myself to “Gimme the kime”.

Food for thought.

Train well.


  1. I share your frustration about fellow martial artists - we want everyone to be as passionate and committed to it as we are. Perhaps we just have to accept that the majority of people are recreational martial artists and are just in it for fitness and an interesting hobby. If people just go through the motions without giving it any real thought or reading up on things then they are destined not to 'get it'. Alas, that is their problem. I always think there's room for everybody from the dedicated martial artist to the hobbyist - live and let live I say! This is a good post but I expect you are preaching to the converted. The people who really need to hear what you are saying won't be reading it - that's life.

  2. All good points, Sue.

    The majority of people are recreational, and that's fine with me. There are lots of benefits to be gained from martial arts, even for those who don't demand as much from them as I do.

    My concern, and the reason for this post, was more that I saw lights go on in people who considered themselves serious martial artists. People who thought they were learning hardcore self defense, and now may be questioning their training. It is for those people that I wrote this piece. I wasn't even going to write about it at first, if it weren't for the fact that in the weeks after the seminar, my Sensei received several requests from students from other clubs to attend our dojo to train with him. Many of these people have to travel quite a distance to do so.

    Hearing this made me realize that there is a group out there who, when exposed to a different type of training, are now examining their own study, which is always a good idea. And maybe a couple of them will visit this blog, and yours - the converted, as you say. Thanks for the comment.