One of the hardest things about training is being honest with ourselves. It is far too easy to be complacent about our training. It is even easier to let our own ego take over to fill in the gaps and make excuses and justifications. The only person who is responsible for your training is you, so we can’t expect anyone else to do the work for us. Check yourself and see how you would answer these questions about your own training – and do it honestly:
1. Are your skills as good as you think they are? Do you know as much as you think you do?
Look carefully at your technique, and be honest with yourself about your skill level and your training. Always know that there is room to improve, and recognize that we all have room to improve. We lose the motivation to improve as soon as we think we’re good enough. Never let yourself think you’re good enough. Honestly evaluate yourself compared to your fellow karateka. Does someone else do something that you admire? If so, try to incorporate that into your training. Avoid making excuses when you make a mistake – own up to it so that you can address it and improve next time.
Seek to understand – do not think that because you have trained for one month or one year that you know better than someone who has trained for ten years or thirty years. Being able to repeat something that you have heard does not mean that you understand. Until you train it, process it, and feel it, you will not have understanding. Understanding in karate is not an exclusively cerebral endeavor – it takes hours, weeks, months, and sometimes years of training to fully understand a concept. It’s easy to think we understand something because we heard it – that’s the first and easiest step in the process. If you hear something from your seniors that you do not quite understand, take the time to reflect and always work with the assumption that they know better and you just don’t understand yet. Train hard to gain that understanding. As Sensei Okazaki tells us - when your head gets too big, you lose your balance.
2. What are your intentions in training? What attitude are you projecting to others?
Are you training to learn to defend yourself? Is what you’re doing going to save your life it that situation ever arises? Will your technique work against a bigger, stronger opponent? Will you be able to stay calm and react in a high pressure situation? If the answer is “no”, then address this in your training.
The strongest or fastest person will not always win in a fight – if this was the case, there would be no reason to train. We would just try to be faster or be stronger. Instead, we need to train smarter. Check your ego at the door and come to training willing to work hard.
Take yourself and your training seriously if you want others to take you seriously. Treat others in training how you want to be treated, and you will be treated accordingly. If you portray weakness, your partners will go easy on you. If you portray arrogance, your partners will never try to help you. If you portray that you are uncontrolled, do not expect your partner to be in control. But if you project to others that you are training seriously, then you will be taken seriously. Partners will push you harder, and you will learn and can push your partners in return to do their best. In this case, everyone can train hard, learn, improve, and all with minimal concerns for injury.
3. Are you training, or are you trying to win? Are you willing to make a mistake so that you can learn?
The goal against every opponent must be to learn from the encounter to better our own training. Are you getting by on your technique, or are you relying on your strength? Are you willing to take a hit now and then to improve yourself? We must be willing to make a mistake in order to learn. There are ways to cheat to “win” in almost every drill that we do in class. Be honest with yourself about how you’re training. Are you taking the easy way out? Is your goal to win the drill, or is it to improve and test your technique and that of your partner?
Push yourself against weaker opponents. No round should be easy. Find a way (within the confines of the drill) to push yourself. For example, in sanbon kumite, work to perfect your timing and to read your opponent. In ippon kumite, do not plan out your defense but rather try to react. If a defense pops into your mind, then do anything but that defense when your opponent attacks. Try a more difficult type of movement, and see how it works. In kihon, focus on the finer details to refine and improve your technique rather than checking out mentally. Lower your stances. No matter what we’re doing, you can always find ways to challenge yourself in training.
When we all do our best in training, then everyone does better. We should push each of our opponents to be their best. By challenging others, we give them a chance to improve their techniques and to test how they work. At the same time, we also learn to control our own techniques. We must learn to be in control of our movements so that we can move at full power and speed against an opponent, but can prevent serious injury if our opponent makes a mistake.
4. Did you get the most out of training? Could you have done more?
We must make the effort to get to training whenever we can. Dojo time is extremely limited, and just getting to training is an important first step. Once you’re there, make the most of your training time. Never leave training feeling like you could have done more. Always give your best effort in training. This doesn’t mean that everything is 100% power and speed – but you are always focused on improving yourself, listening intently to the instruction of Sensei, and trying your hardest to incorporate these lessons into your training. When Sensei makes comments in class, always assume that they are meant for you. Feel like Sensei is always watching you and talking directly to you.
Take responsibility for your own training – no one else knows if you are giving it your best. Push yourself to have the same intensity in your training whether it is kihon, kata, or kumite. If you see something that you like in someone else’s training, then emulate that. Students often tell me that they like the intensity of going with the most senior members in class, and other rounds aren’t like that. Why aren’t they? Don’t complain about it – do something about it! It is in your power to change how you approach training, and how others will feel when they step across the floor from you. You are the only one who can control your own attitude. Learn something from every training. Take something away from every drill. Find something to improve from every kata. Learn a lesson from every encounter with a partner.
Karate training is an extraordinarily humbling experience, and is really hard work. Until we are willing and able to honestly self-evaluate our skills, intentions, motives, and attitude, our training will stagnate. Once we are prepared to truthfully examine ourselves and shed our ego, we will have a better start on the path to self-improvement. When we begin to take responsibility for our own training, we will see our karate technique and understanding start to reach new heights.
Submitted by: Kimberly Baran, Sandan