Western New York Karate Center
Shihan Bill
November 2, 2016

The Importance of Contact

Given the potential for injuries in the practice of martial arts, it is not surprising that a novice student will initially target the air near a training partner when performing training drills. No one should want to hurt a training partner.  But, as stated in the article on randori, “how we train is how we will perform.”  Failing to perform realistic attacks against one’s training partners will undermine learning how to best defend realistic targets of an attack.

For example, if instead of targeting the center of the upper body, we target the air to the side of our partner’s chest, we train our partner how to best defend the air to the side of their chest.  If instead of targeting between the eyes or the chin of our partner, we target the air above or six inches or more in front of their head, we train our partner how to best defend when they possibly didn’t even need to.

Even more important than where we target our training attack, however, is actually attempting to strike our partner.  This is not a direction to strike our training partners with traumatic or lethal force.  It is a direction to attempt to make contact.  In the case of training with unarmed attacks such as with the hands or feet, light contact should be the objective.  In the case of training with weapons, nominal contact should be the objective.

It is understandable if a student is fearful of their ability to modulate the degree of force in an offensive action; but, how else is a student to learn how to modulate force except through practice?  Initially, practice in modulation of force can be performed strictly against a free standing or wall mounted pad.  But, practice in modulation can soon move to hand held targets and then finally to the body of a training partner.  In all cases, practice should start by attempting only nominal contact or a “feather-like” touch.  This should then progress to light contact which involves distortion of the surface of less than quarter inch.  Moderate contact, or a distortion of about a half inch, is the maximum to be used in training on a living body and only with the expressed permission of a regular training partner.  Heavy contact, or a distortion of an inch or more, is not appropriate for training on a partner’s body and should be reserved for pad work only or on actual assailants.  Force modulation practice should also include “pulling” of an attack; launch an attack with a specific intent of contact, such as heavy contact, but stopping the attack short of actual contact or performing no more than nominal contact.

Final thought; contact with actual targets must be the goal with weapons as much as with unarmed training. Indeed, engaging in pad work to develop force modulation with weapons is even more critical than pad work with unarmed training.  The confidence and control developed through pad work with weapons will not only allow for realistic weapon defense training but also thwart the development of false confidence in one’s ability to defend against weapon attacks.