by Sensei Neil Prime
July, 1995

I think there has been a time when most of us are sparring and we have felt the nagging pain of an injury caused by a blow from our sparring partner. Actually, at times it can be quite a surprise when you get unexpectedly hit.

In karate we try to teach "CONTROL". This control can mean many different things to many different people.

Basic control is what we require when sparring with our partner so as not to hit our partner with unnecessary force. We try to control our techniques so that contact to the head area is avoided and contact to the body is pulled. This type of control is in the physical sense of the word and although it can be physically demonstrated, it is not always so easy to learn.

Another aspect of control is the emotional control or mental control that we try to instill within ourselves through karate training.

It may happen some day (or may have already happened) that you will be on the receiving end of a punch or a kick. The longer you train, the more likely it is to happen, and believe it or not, it is more likely to happen in severity with kyu belts (colour belts) than it is with black belts. Within most karate clubs and definitely within our clubs, we promote safety and control so that hopefully these accidents are really only a minor occurrence. I have myself been on the receiving end of a couple of broken noses (actually the same nose twice) and let me tell you it is an eye opening experience. At first I didn't know exactly what to think, all I tried to do was carry on as though nothing had happened. This was rather difficult as my eyes were watering and my nose was bleeding pretty good.

This happened to me as a brown belt for the first time, but I had been conditioned to karate for some time by then (approx. 8 years). Different people react differently to each situation, so until you experience these things it is sometimes hard to imagine. I know of some people who when they first start karate have a very difficult time dealing with the fact that someone is across from them throwing punches and kicks in their general direction and it takes a lot of time even to get used to the fact that this is happening to them. Once they realize that their partner is trying to control their techniques and not really trying to hit them, you can learn to relax. Once you relax, you can then learn to control the person across from you who is throwing these techniques at you.

I have heard, and seen so many times, people wondering how they got scored on? Where did the technique come from? How did he score? I thought I scored?...

This all can tie in to control as well. The more relaxed you are, the more focused you become. The more you have control over your own mind and body, the more you will be able to see and control within your sparring partner.

With experience you will find that when you are sparring you can actually see the techniques coming at you at a slower speed. Some people feel that this is some type of extra sense that you gain but I feel it really is confidence gained through experience that makes things seem to slow down. What really happens is you become more aware of certain movements and signs that your partner sends you and you react to them accordingly. This is why I sometimes say things like "you may get away with this now" or "if you were to spar somebody with more experience, that would not work."

To say the least, when we are sparring in the dojo it is comforting to know that any type of injury is caused accidentally. I don't think though, that if there is an accident that anybody should be caught unaware of the risks involved in any sport. I can assure you that there are many more injuries in sports like hockey and football. Even in ballet you can pull the odd muscle from time to time.

In any case, as strange as this may seem, you are much better off experiencing this type of event in a controlled environment. So many times in the real world if people would have been prepared for a confrontation they would have survived.

In the dojo you may receive a blow, it may catch you off guard, it may even shock you and it may even hurt a bit, but at least you can be assured that if it happens it won't be followed up by a pair of work boots in the ribs and have your wallet stolen, or you won't be dragged away in a car.

It is a known fact through police and physiological interviews with perpetrators of physical crime, that a person who commits a crime to another person will attack a person most likely not to put up a struggle. If any type of struggle is met by this person, weather it be physical or even a scream, in most cases the bad guy will flee! So, in light of the temporary discomfort felt by an uncontrolled punch or kick, try to get back on track as fast as possible. I know I'm not alone in calling one of these hits a "wake up call" that reminds me, no matter who you are or how long you train, and no matter how experienced or inexperienced your sparring partner is, you are not excluded from the fact that you may get hit.

The difference karate training makes, is how you control yourself when this happens.

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