Training and Perseverance
Recently I have been rehashing a post that is on the Traditional Fighting Arts Forum(http://www.traditionalfightingartsforum.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=34&t=2154&hilit=fire+inside). I was pondering the concept of training when you don't want to. The topic is about developing a fighting spirit, or the warrior’s mettle. This may mean a great deal of things to many people, but it hosts one trait that I feel is the most important for karateka; perseverance. This single trait has made me rethink Karate-Do as a whole, because it is found all throughout it. In the kihon (basic techniques) you must continually drill them until you've mastered them. Once you have mastered them, you must continually drill them to maintain that mastery. In kumite (Combat) you have to persevere through taking hits or having to cope with your techniques being inefficient at times. In other words you persevere in your studies of Karate-Do. The fact that Karate-Do takes a lifetime to master demands perseverance.
While showing up to the Dojo is the most important, it is quickly followed by how you train. If you train for exercise only, your techniques will be nothing more than hollow movements. This is not saying that martial arts are only for combat. I am merely trying to clarify that one's intention while training is the single most important catalyst for getting the desired results, whatever those results may be. Simply put, a karateka must train with intention (this will be addressed in a future article).
All of these areas of Karate-Do seemingly rest on one simple fact; you have to show up to the Dojo, or none of it matters. Simply put you have to persevere. Now you have shown up, you have specific goals in mind, and even a reasonable plan of action on how to achieve them. There is still one crucial piece of puzzle missing. This is the knowledge of temperance and indulgence (this will also be addressed in a future article). This is the skill of knowing when to give Karate-Do your all, when to lighten up, and when to philosophize. Karate being a primarily physical discipline, most of our time will be spent in the physical realm, rather than the philosophical. This fact brings us to the ugly reality, the reality that is gilded by the media, but is a constant companion with every serious Karateka. This is the reality that training is hard and will eventually lead us to some type of injury, be they serious or minor, multiple or singular. For many karateka this causes a complete stop in training, in its entirety. If perseverance is the key to Karate-Do, then should injury stop our training?
Pain vs. Discomfort
Before we begin I feel it is necessary to ensure we are all speaking the same language here. This way there is a clear definition of what type of condition we are discussing.
- Injury- Harm or damage that is done or sustained.
- Annoyance- A person or thing that annoys; a nuisance
- Nuisance- An obnoxious or annoying person, thing, condition, practice, etc.
- Pain- Physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury.
- Discomfort-an absence of comfort or ease; uneasiness, hardship, or mild pain.
There is a certain amount of perseverance that is necessary in Karate. This quality seems to be diminishing rapidly amongst practitioners as studious disciples make way for complacent dabblers and the lackadaisical student. In other words, karateka are getting soft. Training is to be a serious matter. Training is supposed to be filled with intent, hard work, knowledge, and perseverance. Too often do minor injuries occur that lead to time taken off. While more opportunities to train will be afforded in the future, lost opportunities to train and learn will never be recovered. Karateka are called to always train and always learn. If muscle are strained, backs ache, wrists are sore, there is no need to stop one's training, but merely tone it down. If one has a serious injury then the physical act of Karate may need to stop to allow appropriate time to heal. But to stop Karate for a time all together would be a lost opportunity to acquire knowledge, and lost training time. One would be surprised at how much motivation and knowledge can be gleaned simply by showing up and watching class. It would seem that a necessary skill for karateka to learn is how to differentiate pain from discomfort. This would allow a karateka to know when to train through the body, and when to train through the mind.
Pain comes from serious injury. Pain is how our body reminds our consciousness that we have an injury that needs to heal. At this point the physical training of Karate must stop so that it may continue in the future. This does not imply all physical activity stops, but that training be replaced with easier, less harmful movements (i.e. light walking, ROM <range of motion> exercises for muscle tears, pool exercises for joint injuries, etc). The idea to keep in mind for physical activity with a serious injury is to keep hurtful movements at bay, but to not let the muscles tighten from being unused.
Discomfort originates from minor injuries. Discomfort is an annoyance that reminds us that our body is possibly on the verge of serious injury, and we must slow down. The pain that is felt is more of a nuisance than an alarm. This is when our training becomes relaxed. Kata movements are done without killing intent, bunkai has diminished or no contact, and Kumite will likely be limited or non-existent. Proper for must still be maintained, even if discomfort is present. The reduced intensity will help keep the muscles warm and all of the surrounding tissue well supplied with blood. Both of which are conducive to proper healing. When discomfort is present training continues, but intensity and effort is reduced according to the level of severity.
Confusing the Two
Pain results from a serious injury. Now that we have a definition for pain the issue arises of how to identify an injury and determine its severity without previous experience. To be on the safe side it is best to assume anything that feels as though something other than a muscle is hurt is a serious injury. If the muscle hurts, and moving it forces you to wince in agony, it is a serious injury. If ROM is physically impeded, it is a serious injury. Discomfort is more along the lines of how one would feel the morning after lifting heavy weights for the first time, or something similar to the pain felt when one has taken a blow to the stomach. Training with discomfort is not comfortable, but it is not likely to cause any real damage. Pain is debilitating, whereas discomfort is simply annoying, or as its term describes, not comfortable.
If someone practices Karate-Do with an injury a few detrimental things will likely occur;
1. The injury will take longer to heal.
2. The healing will not occur properly.
3. A more serious and possibly permanent injury will occur.
4. Improper form could develop due to loss of ROM.
The Benefits of Uncomfortable Training
While practicing Karate with pain is detrimental, the practice of Karate with reduced intensity when discomfort is present is beneficial. This type of training lowers the demands upon the muscles and tissues, increases the blood flow to the affected areas, and keeps the muscles loose and relaxed. The blood allows for nutrients to be supplies to the damaged area, which is vital for the healing process. Keeping the area warm and relaxed not only helps to reduce the chance of the muscles tightening up, causing further pain, but also reduces the risk of a loss of ROM.
Training with discomfort actually has the potential to be beneficial in three different areas; physical, technical, and mental development. The key to allow your training to continue and still reap the benefits of training is to tone down the intensity, reduce the contact, and listen to your body.
If proper form is maintained while training with reduced intensity our technical skills can potentially benefit. The slowing down allows us to divert our attention from focusing on the speed and power of a technique, to trying to feel how the technique is performed, and more importantly how it functions with our body. Maybe avoiding a tender area while blocking will either make us adapt with a different block, or a new variation. This type of training lends itself towards creativity. This training will allow us to expand our versatility, develop an acute sense of awareness, as well as a sense of ownership of the practiced techniques. While padding, wrapping, or supporting a damaged area can be a useful means to continue training, thought should also be given to adapting our techniques and approach to our new, temporary handicap.
This awareness and ownership is how we develop and enhance our Karate-Do in the mental aspect. We are forced to a certain point to protect areas that we may have otherwise left defenseless, such as a bruised forearm. Being forced to adapt not only engages us mentally to a higher degree, but helps us develop a crucial trait in combative arts. Call it perseverance, fortitude, stoicism, the warrior spirit, ultimately it is the strengthening of the mind to endure the hardships of training, and carry on.
Why Discomfort is Necessary
Discomfort is a natural occurrence in Karate-Do. We place ourselves in combat, which causes anxiety. The intricate movement and combinations test our muscular strength and coordination. The massive amount of memorization required for the intricate details of kata and kihon floods our senses with information. The discomfort of injury is ultimately an unavoidable occurrence because contact is, or rather should be an important aspect of training. Contact, light or heavy, allows us to ready our body and prepare our mind for taking damage. It also aids in the development of effective defensive and offensive skills, imbuing the karateka with the knowledge of how to properly block, strike, counter, and evade. There is also the rudimentary lesson of "I do not want to let that happen again." that only contact can truly instill in one's nature. Karate-Do without contact is not Karate-Do. This is not to encourage violence; on the contrary, karateka should respect our training partners. Without them how will they advance? This statement about contact is to encourage practicality and realism in the approach and practice of Karate-Do.
Realistic training involves contact. Naturally wanting to avoid contact a karateka is forced to adapt. From this training a toughening of the body, a refining of the defensive skills, and a combat awareness all simultaneously develop. These previously mentioned skills were once hallmarks of karateka. More than anything contact, both giving and receiving, forces on to persevere through difficulty. As mentioned before, perseverance develops the warrior spirit.
While Karate-Do may be a past-time for some, or a means of fitness for others, it is still Karate-Do. It should be accepted as what it is by nature and not altered to any great extent for convenience. Karate-Do requires practice. Karate-Do naturally involves contact. Practicing with contact is therefore Karate-Do in its truest form. Practicing with contact will naturally lead to injuries. Knowing how to differentiate serious injuries from minor ones, and consequentially pain from discomfort will enable karateka to gain the most benefit and longevity from our training. To do this requires much perseverance. This perseverance will ultimately develop one's character. The warrior spirit has been likened to a samurai's katana. If this is the case;
The karateka is the steel
Training is the fire
Philosophy is the water
Perseverance is the hammer that ultimately gives shape