Shotokan based Karate in Canterbury, Melbourne
Our Karate: Non-contact
Before we go into detail about our fighting exercises it is important to mention one key aspect of Tiger Spirit. We are initially Non-contact.
This simply means that students do not hit or kick each other during training. Apart from teaching control, this makes for a safe learning environment. It also enables the practice of techniques that couldn’t be done safely in a contact situation such as punches to the nose and attacks to the groin, throat and eyes.
We are different from traditional Shotokan in our execution of non-contact. Traditional schools completely execute an attack finishing in front of the target. In effect just missing the target, this is not what we do!
Our non-contact method requires that attacks pull up before impact, so if the attack continued it would hit the opponent with force, not miss. This is to ensure that students learn where to place their bodies for maximum effectiveness when executing an attacking move. Furthermore, students are used to defending an attacker at a realistic range, and know the kicking range and punching range of an attacker.
When we were doing traditional non-contact training the most common injuries were to toes, hands, feet, wrists and ankles. Now that our bodies are more forward on our attacks we are no longer getting blocked on these areas. Blocks are now hitting their target areas on the arms and legs at a much higher percentage.
One of the big misperceptions with traditional non-contact (talking as someone who did it for 20 years) is that the difference between a miss and a hit is only about 1 inch. As a young student of Karate I was constantly told by all my instructors that all I need to do in real self-defence situation is stand 1 inch closer to my attacker and all my distancing would work. From experience I can tell you that this is not the case!
One day I found myself in a real life situation. Decades of Kumite against training partners who had their body positioned to finish attacks in front of me, meant I was making the wrong calls on the range that my attackers could hit me from. In reality their attacks were from around 4 to 6 inches closer in that I had trained for.
The fix required a solution more complex than standing closer together. To be close enough to simulate realistic attacking ranges, and remain a non-contact school, would mean we would have to pull up, something we had not trained to do. Different footwork skills were also required so additional footwork methods had to be added to our Kihon (basics).
The biggest change overall was the amount of equipment required. The best way to judge how far away you need to be from a target to effectively hit it (without doing full contact Karate), is the use of kick shields and punching bags. To emphasize this point, look at the picture demonstrating the correct distance to execute a reverse punch with maximum impact.
To make my point clear, if I was going to complete that punch finishing just in front of the bag (as if it was traditional non-contact Karate against a training partner), I would have to stand at least 6 inches further back.
Our Version of Non-Contact
If he continued the technique to its full completion of both stance and punch, it would most definately hit through its target, indicating that he has positioned himself into an effective range for the appropriate and realistic use of his selected technique.
Getting into this position, and creating an opening, required timing and foot work. This requires skill to achieve, especially against his larger opponent.
The attack has been pulled up before our safety range of 6 inches on head level punches, not 1 inch or less as with traditional training. WHY? Because aiming through your impact point, not in front of it, means you have to get closer when you attack. The same applies for your partner attacking you. If your partner attacks you at the same time as you attack them you will both converge at double the rate. We have learned through experience that without a 6" safety margin on head level attacks, there is a very real potential for a massive double impact if you both attack at the same time.
This photo, from a Kumite session in class, demonstrates what is considered by us to be perfect range on a non-contact training attack to the head.
This meant that my anticipation of what they could hit me with from where they were standing was completely wrong. In fact, the only punches I blocked intuitively were the attacks that were never going to hit me.
If you come from a traditional non-contact Karate background you would be looking at this photo critical of the reverse punch shown. That’s why it has been selected for explanation purposes. In traditional circles this would not be rewarded a point. It would be judged as poor technique because his fist is too far away from its target, his arm is still bent, and he has not yet completed his stance.
We believe this to be well executed attack for the following reasons....
Will pulling up attacks lead to poor Karate?
Execution of complete correct technique is critical for development and power. There is no substitute for good technique. Good technique is the cornerstone of power. Bad technique can lead to injury, commonly, but not limited to, sprains and strains.
Furthermore, impact work, such as punching bags and kick shield is important. It is not about hitting things as hard as you can. Bag works allows you to feel if your technique is impacting correctly. This equipment is a training tool for fist placement, foot placement, body movement, center of gravity, and timing stance movement to attacking limbs.
We totally understand that students repetitively completing full body actions will lead to stronger, better Karate technique through body development.
That is why the Kihon (basics) and Kata (forms) sections are critical. It is in these sections of the class that the emphasis on good technical Karate is drummed into our students. Furthermore the initial Kumite grading activities for lower ranks are trained at traditional distances so that students can adopt full power in their actions.
When it became clear that I could do damage and I was not a soft target, my attackers backed down. However my lesson was learned, we had a problem with our training methods!
Decrease in Injury
At later stages light controlled contact to the body (below the shoulders and above the belt) is permitted. This is to ensure that distancing is correct from attackers, and that defenders know beyond a doubt if their defence was adequate. In light controlled contact, the force is removed from the attack just before impact, and the attack stops upon touching. In effect a punch would be a high speed tap, not a hit! This takes skill to master and is only the domain of the higher ranks.
One unexpected outcome of re-adjusting our attacking rage was the decrease in injuries.
Something as simple as a punch is not done with immense power by simply moving your fist in the direction of your target. Every part of your body must be in harmony. The feet, the legs, the hips and shoulders must all be correct in their action. Even breathing correctly can affect the rhythm of the energy. These are all things that are not developed by constantly pulling up, and in effect, not completing your action.
However, Kumite training needs to have a balance of practical and technical. Learning technically perfect and powerful Karate is purely academic if you never train to the practical and effective range of your attacks and blocks. Knowing the range of your techniques for full effectiveness, and the ranges that an attacker can do you damage, should be given the same technical credit as good form and posture! If you do not know these ranges, than you really don't have a full technical understanding of your martial art.
Regardless of non-contact or light controlled contact, all students below green belt wear protective gear to shield each other. This is especially important for the low ranks that lack control!
Contact Sensei Andrew on 0412 248 157 or Info@tigerspirit.com.au