Kata and Dominance

To prevail in a combative encounter you need to take the initiative and dominate the opponent. It is not enough to select a good target, to do a good technique, to move from the center, to have power, speed, conditioned body weapons, or any of the other components of skillful combatives that we practice day in and day out.

Dominating in the encounter is a mind-set. It is backed up by physical skills. We train the skills. We can train the mind-set too. 

To prevail in a combative encounter means to take control and stop the threat. If you want to de-escalate or evade or work something out, then do it. That is not a combative encounter, and that is not the situation I am referring to.

If you are under violent threat you may oppose it directly with force, you may use deception, intimidation, or subtle and masterful techniques. But however you do it you will need to take command of the situation – use your intention and your physical ability to dominate the aggressor. You need to call the shots. You cannot just react. You need to take the initiative and get the exchange resolved.

If we don’t get used to taking the initiative to dominate and prevail in the dojo then we omit an essential combative skill. We also overlook a key dimension of kata – one that we can deepen and test in kumite. 

Just “getting the move right” will not be enough. It’s easy to back off from the blazing intensity of effort and focus that makes training exciting when you start, and that makes training effective for a lifetime. Instead we do the moves “correctly.” It’s not wrong. We barely notice that we are doing it. We sweat, get a good workout, and feel good. Nothing wrong with that. But we plateau in training by doing that. We do not get much better.

Once we have a grasp of the technique, we need to turn up the challenge: Be able to go on red-alert at will. See what works and what doesn’t. See how fast you need to be, how laser-focused on the opponent you need to be to make your combatives work. To set it up and get the choreography right may be a necessary first step, but it’s only a first step.

In kumite the level of challenge has to be skillfully calibrated. Injury can interrupt training. Excessive safety will also interfere with progress, undercutting the transformative power of practice. Following the middle way in this necessary. And the middle way – between too much training pressure and too little – will be different for different people, and will vary for each person over the course of their training. Finding that balance – where each person needs to rise to the demands of the moment and get better in every class – is good. 

That takes an experienced teacher. Someone who can set the level correctly for each student. And someone who can inspire the students in the class to strive to go beyond their limits every time they train. That skill in leadership is hard to find. For any practitioner, in the long term, it’s hard to do.

But it can be done. 

Facing off with an imaginary opponent in kata or with a training partner in kumite is not like facing an unknown and uncontrolled violent threat. But we may be able to bring it closer than we are accustomed to doing. Then we elevate our awareness, sharpen our skills, increase our speed, and make better use of our dojo time every time we train. 

It is not “being nice” to your students or to your training partners to let them take it easy, go through the motions, “get it right,” or believe that the techniques they practice will “work” in a “real situation.” 

Techniques do not work. We do. And we can use kata and kumite to prepare our bodies and our mental attitudes – to take the initiative, dominate the aggressor, and prevail.

Post and photo by Jeff Brooks, Copyright © 2019

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