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.
I'll be honest...watching karate in the Olympics wasn't really on my priority list. But from what little I did see, I have to say I was very impressed with the incredible level of athleticism displayed by both the kata and kumite contestants.
After learning that the gold kumite medal was won via a disqualification for excessive contact following what was in every other aspect a nicely executed jodan mawashigeri (see above), my initial thoughts were...well, there's some more fuel to add to the fire for those who view karate unfavourably and consider it very much a watered down system. The contestant who 'combatively' lost the match, ends up earning the win! However, I think it also emphasises a very important concept for the application of our art and indeed, something that all martial arts practitioners can learn from:
Context Determines Content!
Real world application of the somewhat formalised movement pathways in karate kata for percussive impact require the ability to maximise function away from the clear and uninterrupted line of standard performance. Specifically, strikes need to be able to work under pressure, at varying ranges, with modifications on the fly and from uncomfortable positions. This can never be achieved through repetition in thin air or even against a makiwara, heavy bag or focus mitt for instance unless of course such levels of pressure, range, modification and restriction are thoroughly explored and incorporated.
For self-protection, Hick's Law suggests that it pays to have a single 'go-to' striking technique that's been comprehensively honed to provide a high level of confidence in its ability to serve you well should it ever need to be relied upon. However, repetitively generating a powerful palm strike for instance against a heavy bag does not equate to a technique that's been 'comprehensively honed'. Here are a few ideas to try during training to help check if your strikes are really as functional as you need them to be.
Now that's what I call a question...
What is correct form?
Ask ten people and I expect you'll receive ten different answers!
In fact, the reason why we have differences in the performance of kata across style is ultimately down to what is considered 'correct form', which is in essence a human construct.
After all, karate doesn't really care what style it's from!
So let's take this idea of 'correct form' and explore what it may actually mean...
When it comes to targeting for self-protection, you have to keep things very simple. The skill to impact a specific weak area on the opponent is of course a high-reward component of your striking strategy, but those locations, and indeed the probability of meeting your desired accuracy needs to be kept within the realms of reality. An exploration of vital points, TCM, small surface striking and similar fine motor control studies is no less a valuable part of a martial artists journey and enjoy these studies too, however, with Murphy's Law being ever prevalent in the application of karate for self-protection, we need to keep the notion of targeting as fail-safe as is possible.