Snap out of it.

Sometimes an idea enters your head, takes hold, and won’t let go. When the idea is a good one, there is no better feeling. I want to share one such idea today and hope it helps to inspire your solo training. But first, we have to give up some other ideas that, for many of us, took hold a long time ago.

If there are two signature sounds in every dojo across the world they are the loud yells of the students (kiai!) and the sharp snapping of uniforms (gi) with each kick and punch. This snapping sound is often an early goal for kyu ranks as they try to emulate those ahead of them. The snap represents speed, focus, control,and a modicum of power. It sounds good when a kata is being performed and, for many, has become an audible signal of correct technique.

But, how come we don’t hear that same snap when we punch or kick an opponent? For one reason, that sound is a sure sign that you have completed your technique. If you hear it when you hit someone then this can only mean one thing – you only tagged the surface. A blow that effects an opponent must connect before the arm or leg is fully extended so that it can penetrate their body. This kind of blow can knock out, off balance, take the wind, break bone, etc. This kind of blow changes the outcome of a fight. It doesn’t have to be that powerful to force a reaction but getting a “reaction” is the key. This means you are in charge of the outcome of the conflict.

The snap, on the other hand, is a sign of control in the dojo. It means you know where the end of your arm is. This is a good thing when you are practicing with others and don’t want to connect, but less necessary when you train alone. And, if the goal is to improve your life-protection skills, it is important to recognize the difference as you practice technique. If you run through your kata and imagine striking through your opponent you will find that the snap no longer has much significance. It is only there so that you don’t overextend your joints (which almost cannot happen when you hit something or someone).

Common wisdom is that the way we do things in the air (kata for instance) lacks reality and we need to relate all of our techniques to an actual opponent. The dojo habit of snapping your gi certainly supports this view. It is impractical and lacks realism. On the other hand, if we change our techniques each time we do them, to fit a person or a situation, we lose a host of other possible applications. Kata movement should be universally correct and therefore applicable in multiple specific situations. The key is recognizing why you are doing each and every movement. To understand why you do anything, you have to be willing to open your mind and give up preconceived notions. This is important, even if you eventually decide that what you have been doing is correct after all. Start by considering the snapping gi that so many of us are used to. What ideas become important when you let that idea go?

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