Many people might not know, but I am a guitarist. In my ‘younger’ days I played at a high level with a dream to play professionally at an international level. I didn’t “make it”, mostly due to fear and lack of confidence. What does all of this have to do with Kyokushin Karate you might ask? Well… I discovered a very interesting parallel recently.
I was watching a documentary on the band The Eagles. Songwriting masterminds who were a super group of the 70s with massive hits. As I watching I pulled out my guitar and started playing along. I got stuck and lazy at one point and googled the guitar tab (a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches – sort of like paint by numbers for music). Then something really hit me! Read on…
Prior to watching this documentary I watched a documentary on Okinawan Karate, the parent of Kyokushin Karate, called The Spirit of Okinawan Karate. In the documentary there is a part where a teacher is working with a student on kumite. The student, although very proficient technically, was struggling while fighting. He was losing his techniques and unable to block (Uke) proficiently (or as the Okinawan’s say, “receive“).
The Sensei says the student is only thinking of winning, and that’s why he has no style of his own. What he meant was there was too much thinking and not enough of letting go and relying on his skills and intuition to block (receive). He goes on to say “you must maintain calmness while receiving (blocking) the opponent’s attack”.
This brought me immediately back to my own training under Sensei Steve Fogarasi at Contact Kicks Dojo. I struggle too with blocking and seeing openings during Kumite, and one thing that Sensei reminds me of always is to calm down, including calming my face (which usually shows too much emotion when fighting and working out).
“A heart that doesn’t fear,… blocks (receives) actively and has the strength to take it on“. Move forward while blocking. – from The Spirit of Okinawan Karate
So, what does this have to do with the guitar playing? I was thinking of when I was playing in my teens. Guitar Tab became very popular and people, including myself, starting relying on it heavily. The result was that while your technique could be very high and your physical abilities, by relying on memory from learning from tab, you would lack the natural intuitive ability to improvise, stay calm and to rely on your ear.
The same has happened with me in Karate. I have a foundation and I am learning the techniques, but when it comes to kumite, most probably due to fear and lack of self-confidence, I am not relaxing and relying on responsive intuitive nature, but rather I try to ‘win’ – which frustrates me, and slows my response time down, by ‘thinking too much’ rather then just reacting.
So much of this has to do with calming the face muscles. Besides showing your opponent that you’re obviously under stress etc., it can also make you stiff and exhaust quicker. The great strength and conditioning coach (and karate-ka) Charles Poliquin has talked about this with weight lifters who show the strain on their faces. He has said, paraphrased, that if you keep a calm face and pay attention to your breathing, you don’t expend unnecessary energy. You are subconsciously convincing yourself that you can keep going and endure fatigue.
And this does work. I have been experimenting while working out hard. Just when I believe I am running out of gas and I have nothing left, I make a conscious effort to relax my face and chest. Suddenly I feel like I can do a little more when just before I was convinced my heart was going to explode. I believe this might be a step closer to Mushin – No Mind.
Remember, the mind is our most powerful tool. Not only can you use it to convince your body that you can do more than you have done before, by simply relaxing your face, we can also rely on it to take care of us during sparring. At least this is what I am going to try!
I am going to take Sensei’s advice and words to heart. I am going to make a conscious effort to relax my face and chest, to stop “thinking” so much, and to let me body just intuitively react. I have been watching videos of some of my favourite fighters, and he is right. The great ones, especially the ones that appear to have amazing defence, are very relaxed and calm in their face. Just watch Hajime Kazumi and you’ll see what I mean.
This also reminded me of when Norihiro was training with us from Japan. I once asked him if he ever gets hurt or feels pain, because he always looks so relaxed. He told me that since he began training, at the age of nine in Japan, they were always told to keep a calm face and show no pain. So he said he does feel pain and exhaustion, but he has trained to keep a calm appearance to both not show his cards to his opponent, but also to be able to keep calm in battle.
So, my mission now is to work on this. I believe it will serve me well outside of the dojo as well. By keeping my emotions in check physically I am hoping it will reflect inwardly, by allowing me to make more productive intuitive decisions. I love me dojo and teacher, as I am learning so much not only about karate, but about myself that I am applying to my life as well. Every day and class in the dojo I not only learn karate, I learn something new about myself. I will report back and let you know how it goes!