Eye of the Tiger: Intent in Kumite!
The eyes can be your greatest weapon in Karate. Not only can they be used to see attacks and movements of the partners and used to judge your relative location in a room or were obstacles are, but they can be used as part of your attack.
I always preach that you have to have the intent in your Kumite and drill work, you can not just throw arms and legs about like you are dancing or doing an aerobics class. This makes your Karate as dangerous as a bad Cha Cha! You have to have the intent in your Kumite! You must be so focused on making effective techniques that your form is dangerous and your intent on ending the fight can be felt by the partner. It’s a kind of controlled aggression and danger that gives your Karate life!
Let me say firstly that we are not here to harm each other, we are here to learn how to harm each other! The difference is that we are not pounding on each other and doing damage, we try to make as little contact as possible but still demonstrate skill that could save your life if need be. I have trained with so many people that do not understand true intent in Kumite or cannot demonstrate it when the time came. You end up with one of two kinds of people when Intent is not present, ineffective dancers and bullies that like to hurt people.
The ineffective dancers forget that they need to focus, they don’t five purpose or life to their Karate! There is not drama in what they are doing, they throw lazy kicks and punches as if it is a command of a puppet master who is pulling strings and they have no spirit in their moves. They are boring to watch spar or do Kata, their Kihon is limp like old celery! When they Kiai, its all from the throat and not from the belly, they yell like they must, not like they want to! This kind of student can be coached but it takes a long time to get them out of their shell and understanding that Kumite is about presence and technique. The injection of Intent into their Kumite will make a world of difference and make a okay technician a Kumite machine if they simply commit and develop the proper attitude with control.
A person with good techniques who turn to bully tactics and show a lack of control is the exact opposite and still has issues that must be dealt with. There is a big difference between intent and pushing to hard and hurting others. I have seen so many bullies join Karate with the hopes of being able to hit other people and get away with it. Now let me qualify this by saying controlled impact that does not harm others is the goal of Karate training, we don’t go full force on anyone because you can do some very serious damage, having said that…excessive contact and striking vulnerable areas is not acceptable….and in the old days would have been dealt with swiftly and clearly. I recall one incident were a bully was hitting girls in the club because he felt safe, well Sensei Tammy took his head off with a round house kick and put an end to his pestering the ladies. I also remember a farm boy that tried to play grappler with me and out wrestle me during free sparring, I almost broke his arm the first time and then had him purple with a decent choke the second. To bad he was to stupid to figure out he was being politely asked to stop it…the not so polite way would have lead to a broken arm or him waking up in the street with his clothing and shoes.
The idea of intent is to inject Kumite with spirit and the attitude that is correct for making self defense in a respectable and safe way. Intent in kumite is the act of showing the correct attitude for a serious self defense situation and creating the feel that you are going to defend yourself, even if the act is a “play” of sorts. To often we see limp defense and the act of defending yourself gets hard wired in as being a not so serious thing. So if that is how you are hard wired…how do you hope to defend yourself?
Intent should start in the eyes. Focus your eyes on your opponent and look at them as if they are an opponent. Now you know you are not to hit your partner but you have to have the feel that you can and will, the use of control is like a spark from flint. You attack and at the last possible second you pull your attack up short, but before that actual second of control, you are still attacking with intent to do body damage. The eyes should look thru the defender and a glair should be used to show the attacker, or partner that you are serious about doing harm to the person. If you blankly stare at your partner then you give the impression that you are not serious and it is hard to foster the right attitude if externally you do not have the right look of seriousness.
Your eyes should be affixed to your opponents. It takes practice and at purple belt you should start using the eyes in a more serious way, before that you can look at some ones shoulders or chin, but the eyes may become a bit to intimidating. Practice to use your eyes in combat and you will have one more tool that not everyone can use properly. It is said that a good glair can topple a strong fighter.
Some of the most scary people to spar with understand that it is not really about killing the other guy or crushing him, its about attitude and intent on training. Push yourself to understand this and your kumite will improve.
The most important things you can train in Karate are your technique and your spirit, intent and the eyes are all part of that spirit. Work hard to get your eyes into Kumite and you will have forged one of the scariest first lines of defense that anyone can. Remember Intent and a bit of danger in kumite make for a spicy and fun time doing kumite.