Having been training for 6 months or so, I started to notice my movements were coming more easily and naturally. I was beginning to understand some of the principles I was being taught, even though I couldn't actually implement them. This is a wonderful time as it really feels like each week my understanding increased noticeably. However, it is also a dangerous time as my brother and training partner Iain, found out the hard way. Going to work with bruised forearms from blocking drills was now par for the course. It never bothered me overly and in fact, not being able to rest my arms on the desk due to the bruises actually made me type in a more ergonomic way. That's cold comfort of course when you spend 8 to 10 hours a day writing computer code and all you want to do is the one thing that you can't. It was about this time I started seriously thinking about self defense as more than physically defending myself against an attacker. It's about health and wellbeing both physical and mental, fitness, our environment like not walking under ladders or marching blindly around corners. But most prominently, it's about doing things that make us better not things that make us worse.
One evening during training, we were doing some partner work, just some simple single step combinations. Unfortunately for me, I happened to single step in at precisely the same time Iain executed an exceptionally good reverse punch (gyaka zuki in Japanese). This punch connected with my abdomen and broke two of my ribs. While ribs are less inconvenient than say and arm or leg break, it does make breathing, sleeping and I discovered, sneezing, very painful.
Following an 8 to 10 week, light duty recovery period, I was back training again, and by extension, back doing partner work with Iain. I was still a bit tender on the right but more than that, I was unconsciously over protective of my ribs. It all came to a head, following an almost identical scenario where Iain stepped forward to deliver a chest punch (chudan oizuki). Recognising the pain and discomfort I had been through just a few months before, I almost involuntarily dropped my body weight and performed a low forearm block (gedan hara uke or gedan barai depending on your style). I can only put it down to my body not wanting to go through the pain and hassle of a broken rib but I performed the block incredibly well. It felt very natural and strong. So strong in fact, I broke a bone in Iain's forearm.
Throughout this time we both learned a valuable lesson. Karate, when performed correctly, is a dangerous tool and therefore, control and temperance is essential. I feel that having experienced this lesson first hand has given me a personal perspective from which to teach others. In fact one of the reasons I get my students to perform self defence techniques on others and in return, have others perform those same techniques back on them, is so each karateka not only learns how to deliver their techniques correctly through practice but also that they are aware of what they are doing to others and as a result, have a better understanding of potential consequences. This is especially important for school children and young adults who may be looking to show off their knowledge or perform a party trick.
All in all, karate-do is not a game and needs to be approached with respect and understanding. That being said, some lessons can not be learned from a book. Finding ways to instil these lessons in a safe and controlled way is often the biggest challenge. During class, talking to the students about respect for ourselves and others, respect for our equipment and uniforms (gi) is one way. Performing single step techniques and building that up to more advanced combination sparring (kihon ippon and bunkai kumite), is another. In Kofukan Karate, the organisation I belong to, we introduce partner work and combinations quite early and then move onto sparring (kumite) around the orange and green belt level. This building block approach, coupled with the general respect and self defense lessons mentioned earlier, has proven to substantially aid students to achieve the knowledge required to produce well balanced and respectful attitudes.
Sensei Russell holds a 3rd Dan Black Belt from
Shito-ryu Karate-Do Kofukan International
This story continues in: “Are we not Karateka? we are Martial Artists!”