Karate and the Inner Game

In Martial Arts it is important to develop the ability to move from perception into action without passing through cognition. This means acting upon what we see, hear, feel or sense in a conscious way, but without thinking about it. Thinking about anything in our usual way takes time, and in a situation where we might miss the point, or where our life may be on the line, time is of the essence. We must have the correct mind-set.

The problem for most of us is that we think in words. For example, beginners in karate, when questioned about how they are considering a technique will admit that they are talking their way through it, thus: “step back with the left foot, raise the right arm, twist across the body with a blocking movement and follow up with a reverse punch, not forgetting to twist the hips.” While this process works enough to let them struggle through the basics of the movement in roughly the right order, it completely negates the experience of harmonious movement in action. Doing it this way never feels right, and it does not look as good as we know it could. Naturally we want to know how to do it better.

A superior strategy altogether is to stop the inner talking and record an internal movie, a visualization of the whole move, based upon the example of the instructor. We need then to only run the inner movie a few times, imagining how it would feel in our bodies to move like the mental picture, before we can begin to practice with relative ease. It will start to feel right. Thinking in pictures allows the Martial Artist to take all of the parts of a situation into account simultaneously, and at the same time, anticipate extentions or other specific variables as they arise.

On a neurological level, normal verbal thinking takes place in the left hemisphere of the brain, while visulaization is a function of the right hemisphere. Activity in one hemisphere tends to inhibit activity in the other. By paying attention to visualization and visual thinking, the Martial Artist automatically takes attention away from the linear sequential, inner talking process of the left hemisphere. At the same time, by visualizing our moves we are focusing attention on the functions of the right hemisphere. Controlling our mind in this way, it is possible to learn more quickly and excute more precisely the skills of the Martial Arts. You will find many other uses for visualization once you become used to practicing it. Many skills can be learned more quickly and effectively by getting the picture. © Shihan Robert H. Mason 2005

How to Benefit the Most From Karate Training

Martial Arts training is very individual and all students will progress at their own speed. I was recently asked by a parent why her son had not yet received a red stripe when another child who had started on the same day now had a red stripe on her belt. I thought that many parents and adult students might benefit from my thoughts on this issue.

All new students bring to their first lesson an individual level of enthusiasm, physical talent and capacity to learn. Although it’s normal in this culture for people to make comparisons from one student to another, this is generally not helpful in Martial Arts. In the case of the parent in question, her son had attended three classes in eleven days since signing up, while the other student in comparison had attended seven classes in the same period. Even if these two children were equal in terms of talent, enthusiasm and learning ability, the extra frequency of attendance and the additional class time would certainly be reason enough for the one child to have earned a stripe, while the other child did not.

In addition to frequency of training and the intensity of the individual workout, karate needs time to seep into the bones. Martial Arts training requires numerous repetitions of each technique with correct form and feeling, to fully program each move into the student’s repertoire. Only with patient practice over time can the goal of mastering each technique be achieved.

Martial Arts is about mastery. Unlike other sports or games people play which are related to acquisition or ambition, Martial Arts looks to mastery of the self through mastery of technique as the purpose for practice. For this reason, acquiring red stripes in order to have more than someone else or gaining a higher belt in order to look down on those with lower belts is contrary to the principles at work.

If you are the parent of a young student here at UKC and you believe that your child cannot fully understand these principles, then allow the training to provide the “experience” throughout the months and years ahead. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, but it must be taken in the right direction.

-Shihan Robert H. Mason © 2005


Sensei George Sfetas TobiYokoGeri            Winning awards, like earning stripes, is an external

recognition of internal achievement..