Friday, February 11, 2011

American Freestyle Karate and the Power of Confrontation

Dan Anderson is one of the most accomplished American martial artists. On the website for his school, his bio reads,

Professor Anderson is the director and chief instructor of Dan Anderson Karate and has a 7th Degree Black Belt in Karate, a 6th Degree Black Belt (Senior Master) in Filipino Modern Arnis, and an 8th Degree Black Belt in MA-80. He is a 4 time national karate champion, having won over 70 Grand Titles! He is the founder of American Freestyle Karate, a uniquely American martial art as well as the author of the best selling book, "American Freestyle Karate: A Guide To Sparring" which has been in print for 30 years. He has been honored by inclusion into the Karate Living Legends, a lifetime achievement honor, being one of the 50 most influential martial artists in the 40 year history of tournament karate. Prof. Anderson's school has been continually teaching martial arts to the residents of East County for 25 years, making it the oldest Karate school in this area.”

The book mentioned above, American Freestyle Karate: A Guide to Sparring is widely recognized as one of the seminal and most authoritative written works on the subject of karate style point sparring. It's topics span stance and posture, body movement with and without footwork, developing power, kicking, punching, and blocking, and monitoring the opponent. It contains both technical information, including step by step breakdown of techniques and combinations, and strategic and conceptual instruction which informs the practitioner in his approach to both sports combat and self defense.

One particularly valuable section discusses the concept of confrontation, so crucial to success in freestyle sparring,

The Ability to Confront

To confront – verb transitive – Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary 2.a. “to cause to meet: bring face to face.”

Psychologically, everything in karate boils right down to the idea of confrontation, to face up to something. Sparring, approaches, technical information, everything.

A person's ability to confront things comes with familiarization and gradient stages of the ability to confront itself.

When you have trouble with any face of karate, it comes from a failure to confront that particular area. Example: a person is a strong technician and is tough but does not think when sparring. The thing to do is to have them confront thinking during sparring in gradient stages. 1) Plan out each attack and carry out the plan; 2) spot circuits (habit patterns) in your opponent's sparring, etc. Take him through each step until he is up to sparring and thinking.

The ability to confront is such a great part of everything. Anything you can do well is because you can confront it, meet it face to face, nose to nose with a big grin. Karate has always felt easy to me, but acceptance of getting hit in the head has never been easy. My ability to confront things is up on karate and down on getting hit in the head.

Things that you cannot confront easily will have to be worked through, but if you take any one particular thing and work it out in easily handled steps, pretty soon the punch in the head (or whatever) will not seem so awful to you.

This is how I break my students into sparring. Thanks to movies and television, beginners come in with preconceived notions of karate, ranging anywhere from macho brutality to the idea that the studio is a monastic retreat for pacifistic martial monks. But, they have one thing in common; they sit back and tense up when watching somebody else spar. Here it is so close to them, violence, punching faces, kicking groins, struggling. A sparring match can be a fearsome sight to a lot of beginners. So, I start them off easy with a punch, a stance, a kick, a block, until they are comfortable with it. Then slowly, easily in a line drill, they see that attack come at them and block it. Great. That attack was handled. Then after a while, they get into slow and easy, unstructured blocks and attacks with a partner, the same thing that bugged their eyes out in the first place, sparring. The only difference is that through a series of gradient steps, they reached a point where what was once foreign to them was now recognizable and comfortable. That is what the ability to confront is about. Anything you have trouble with, work on in easy steps until it becomes comfortable.

Professor Anderson's advice transcends the art of kicking and punching. Take it with you in your training, practice your least favorite techniques. Do ten more kicks when you're already tired. But apply the lesson to the other facets of your life as well.  Confront, persevere, have indomitable spirit.

Everything in karate boils right down to the idea of confrontation. Karate no shugyo wa issho.

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