In Karate, and other traditional martial arts, control, in terms of controlling the level of impact, is considered a desirable attribute. Some consider control to assist accuracy, which can be attained through careful attention to form. Control is considered to relate to skillful execution of technique and of course there is skill involved in being able to execute a side kick and hold it in place an inch from your partners face, in a Jean–Claude Van Damme stylee. All very pretty, dramatic and skillful, controlled and aesthetically pleasing, but is there a downside?
Well, in my humble opinion there is and its potentially a very serious downside. If the training emphasis is on controlled strikes the question is whether or not the control can be switched off if required. It is not automatic, that’s for sure. I remember the first time I had someone train with us who’d never hit a pad. He was a big bloke, 6ft 4, with long legs. I had him do front kicks on a shield and was very surprised at the power generated. Rather at the lack of power generated, continually hitting the air had ensured he had great control but close to zero impact.
Control in sparring is oft cited as essential for safety reasons, but ‘pulling punches’ so that contact is minimal is a sub-optimal approach. One reason is that the timing is altered, so that fast light strikes can ‘score’. It’s far from realistic, much better to use safety equipment and allow heavy contact, this assures the timing remains intact and so is closer to the unruliness of a real fight. Good 16oz boxing gloves offer great protection, head guards have drawbacks as this blog post discusses.
Steve Morris advocates creating something choatic saying “One minute of aggressive resolve in a milling session is worth hours of light sparring, pushing hands, dojo kumite, etc.” Once we err toward reality and away from points the less aestheticly pleasing the performance and by definition a reduced emphasis on control/form. It’s essential to train to be effective in a self-defence situation otherwise we are compromising our ability to defend ourselves; this can lead to an inflated confidence in ability and subsequently tricky situations in a fight.
That is not to say that control/form is completely unimportant. It would be daft to completely ignore form as some emphasis is required to train for optimal power production etc., the striking action needs to be performed optimally. Also some control is required in order to allow heavy Ground and Pound training, for example, within safe limits. It’s no good dropping control completely to the detriment of safety; after all we need to be capable of turning up for tomorrows training session. It’s not simply a question of all or nothing, there are degrees of emphasis.
My main gripe with emphasis on form and control is that this can detract from training that is transferable to the chaos of a fight. To prepare for choas we need some chaos training, emphasising control and form to the nth degree detracts from this.