Ooops! Sorry!

“Ooops, sorry”, if you’ve been practising a martial art and sparring is part of your training, you have probably said these words. Usually it immediately follows hitting someone by mistake or a little harder than you meant to. Often beginners will stop completely and start asking “are you alright?” In sparring these things happen, when you learn to swim you will need to get wet so learning to kick and punch means you will occasional get hit or hit someone. When training for self-protection however saying sorry can be a very bad habit. Let me explain, your brain relies heavily on experience to work out what is going on in any given situation and then what to do about it. Essentially in a given situation it tries to remember what happened last time, what you did and what was the outcome.

Let’s say you are a brand new student in a striking art. Once you have been shown basic striking you would probably hit focus mitts/bag to practice, but eventually you will be standing in front of a live person to practice partner drills or sparring. You are going through your drill/spar and ‘whack’, contact is made. Pretty much everyone the first time you hit someone will stop and apologise, and why wouldn’t you? Probably because for many years as a child you were taught that hitting people is wrong, which for most of the time it is. It is important here not to ignore the context, self-protection. This means if you need to hit someone there is legally a damn good reason for it. Back to your drill, you make contact and “ooops, sorry”, if you keep doing that you are conditioning your brain to react a certain way to the circumstance, literally programming it. Don’t forget you are practicing hitting people, which is the goal. Last thing you want happening in a real situation, is to say sorry to the guy trying to kick your head in! I am not saying for a second that every drill you do should be full contact, that’s stupid, for a start you would run out of people to train with plus the obvious harm to your health. Neither am I saying contact should never be made. The key point here is training these natural responses, in the context of self protection they do more harm than good.

What I am suggesting is. When contact is made just keep going, don’t stop. Keep doing whatever you are doing, only once it has ended you can say sorry. That’s if you need to, you are training to hit people. I don’t see footballers saying sorry to the oppositions goal keeper when they score. With continued training you can gage if the contact was too much or even not enough, then once the drill is over you can say sorry.

The person being hit has an important part to play, they also must continue. When sparring they should hit back but it is essential that the contact is not escalated and hurt the new student. If the higher grade allows his ego to take over and hurt the lower grade. Their brain will respond by saying “hang on, when I hit someone I get hurt” meaning that they will not want to hit someone again. I would say most people have at some time seen or been part of a lower grade tagging a higher grade. The higher grades ego is hurt and demand blood in payment. Doing this physically punishes the student for doing what they are supposed to be doing. If you are the higher grade, then suck it up! Especially if the higher grade is the instructor, take it as a compliment that your student is getting better. The other side of the coin is that you experience being hit, how it feels, how you got hit. Was it because your defence was off and could you avoid it in future. You can learn so much from failure, the dojo is where you want to have all the mistakes. So you don’t make them for real and if it does happen then you have been there before so know what to expect.

There may be people out there saying “well in real life I wouldn’t do that”, if that is you then I have a little test to show how deep this sort of conditioning can go. Every native speaker of the English language knows what the word ‘stop’ means, it is used all the time for a single purpose and can’t be misinterpreted. When you are next sparring at some point shout at your opponent “STOP”, if you want to put your hands up (palm facing away) do this also. I can guarantee that your opponent will either stop completely or at least pause long enough for you to have a free shot. We are so used to this command that we get hard wired by it, even if your art uses the Asian vocabulary (Yame in Japanese). Even this can be trained out though, try this again after doing it a few times and it won’t work. The same way “ooops sorry” can be trained out. In our dojo we use the word ‘zero’ when we need to stop at any time, this way we avoid using the ‘S’ word completely.

There will of course be some people who take to it quicker than others, but it is the ones who find hitting people emotionally difficult will need the help most. Ultimately they may still not like to do it, but they should be at least be capable if needed.

I hope I have given the reader something to think about.

Happy hitting

Neil Cook

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