Practicing karate for personal safety requires a holistic strategy that covers far more (and sometimes the opposite) than the skills normally practiced in the dojo. Even if the practical methods taught are contextually aligned and effective for civilian self-protection, these still only represent a small part of a viable personal safety game-plan, as they tend to focus heavily on the last resort of a physical response. Of course, there are numerous options available before the requirement to go physical that unlock initially through the ability to maintain a healthy level of situational awareness and perceive potential threats before they may become a significant problem.
Within the chapter that focuses on the percussive impact in my upcoming book on the exploration of civilian combative methods found in Naihanchi Kata, I mention the 'Hierarchy of Impact' and how this important principle may be utilised in the practical application of traditional karate.
The components of 'distance' and 'time' are luxuries seldom enjoyed in the realm of civilian self-protection, so it stands to reason that any system that relies heavily on these is fundamentally flawed when aligned to this specific context. And in my opinion, due to extended ranges emphasised in many of the more contemporary karate systems in order to meet other goals, the hierarchy of impact is not often given the attention it deserves.
In this blog post, I'd like to write a little about the hierarchy of impact and why I believe any self-defence based karate dojo should look to embrace this principle throughout a variety of training protocols.
Pulling the non-striking hand back to the hip is a common motion found in karate and although there are numerous practical applications for such an action and indeed, different reference points for hikite, I think it's important to consider why the hip position may be principally emphasised in most fundamental techniques (kihon-waza) found in classical kata. Following on from my recent posts on this subject, I'd like to discuss two key reasons, based on the assumption that the 'hiki-te hand' has something in it when being employed (i.e. the opponent's arm, head, clothing etc.) and not performed simply for the sake of conformity.
In the case of civilian self-protection, our situational awareness and specifically, the way we interact with people is always far more important than the development of physical attributes. Of course, trouble can come your way regardless of how you act, but being a game of 'managing the probability of risk', any good personal safety game-plan would be best served on the basis of one being a decent human being within society.
"When your temper rises, lower your fists. When your fists rise, lower your temper."
Take a look at the following clip, where Tim Larkin reviews footage of two experienced MMA fighters taking a pretty severe beating outside a gas station. In the review, Larkin raises a number of valid points covering the specific context of their skill-base, plus the reality of weapons or multiple opponents. However, the real message that pops out to me is the fact that this whole situation could have been completely avoided had Maiquel Falcao refrained from such anti-social behaviour towards the two ladies. A perfect example of how people skills should always be prioritised over physical skills...
The study of body dynamics in traditional karate can go as deep as you'd like it to and exploring the subtleties found in the art can be a very addictive process. Indeed, exploring how you may best use positional advantage, move between stances efficiently, make use of natural strengths, exploit natural weaknesses and interact with an opponent to achieve the best results can prove a very seductive pursuit. So much so that we sometimes forget to keep at the forefront of our minds the fundamental requirement for simplicity in self-defence, with the real risk of 'pure function' creeping further and further away from our dojo training. As they say, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication!
Percussive impact makes up Karate's primary strategy for dealing with an imminent physical threat to one's safety. If avoidance, escape or dissuasion are not valid options to pursue or have already been exhausted, then the order of the day would be to employ swift, aggressive and overwhelming ballistic strikes. either pre-emptive (ideally) or reactive, with the aim of switching off either the ability or the inclination for the opponent to continue posing a significant risk, thus facilitating the opportunity to make a safe escape.