Focus and Intent

When so much of what we do is on automatic pilot and habitual, it seems that sometimes we may find ourselves coasting through our lives with barely an attentive glance.  Driving our cars on roads with our minds a million miles away, noses buried in cell phones, etc., etc.  We are oblivious to a lot. How often, are we really present and ‘in the moment’?  Perhaps not as often as we should be.

As practitioners of the martial arts from which the origins began as primarily ‘self defence’, we should have a better understanding of ‘being in the moment’, especially in terms of self preservation in a threatening situation.  A sixth sense as it were, would be ideal and while it is possible to hone a ‘sixth sense’ for life situations, most of us have our hands full dealing with the five senses we already have!  More about Sixth Sense another time! — Focus and Intent is the theme now.

Most, if not all, karate dojos routinely have partner drills and exercises that strive to simulate situations whereby we alternate between the role as an ‘attacker’ and that as a ‘defender’ with the aim of developing a defending response that repels an attack and/or controls the same threatening situation safely. 

These training drills done repetitively with various sized partners, with various aggressive and threatening means, over time, conditions us to innately respond reflexively.  Subconsciously, in our dojos, we do understand that we are in a safe place and the chances of getting injured are minimized, as our partners are not really going to follow through and try to hurt us (or shouldn’t!)  We often seem to train with that subliminal mental safety cushion that may do more harm than good and thus lead to a false sense of our own confidence and in our own capabilities.

How do we amp up our game and train with more viability in our training?  I don’t have the answers, but if I may just offer a couple of ideas to be aware of. 

Adjust our attitude on the dojo deck.  Recognize that for the time spent in a martial arts class, we are part of a long lineage of practitioners of an art that was designed solely for the purpose of self preservation, that’s right, we’re not knitting, chasing butterflies, baking or anything else other than learning to defend ourselves!  From kihon repetition, punching, blocking, kicking, katas, partner drills, kobudo and even meditation practice, at all times we are preparing ourselves for self defence readiness.  In the dojo we must put on a face and a demeanour of serious study.  Focus!

In kata practice when we are performing solo or even in a group, we call upon our fight spirit and attitude as second nature and thereby become familiar with that inner budo persona.  This conditions us to have that spirit readily available when needed in a real world situation!  Intent!

With partner drills, where one is the attacking aggressor - uke (with any technique), the attack should be reasonably real (unless you are just starting or working with someone not familiar with the exercise.)  Let’s assume we are all familiar with these drills.  A training partner that infuses that element of realism in their attack, actually does us a favour, in that as defenders in the scenario, we must mount a defence that is equally, if not, more energized!  A good attacking partner is a huge asset in your training and as such, deserves that respectful bow at the end of your session, as they have given you the opportunity to learn.

As the defender practising his/her technique against the attacker, the opportunity to form proper focus and intent in a calm manner cannot be over emphasized! Intent is inherent in that we intend to be safe and survive our encounter.  When that attack suddenly is presented, our ‘intent’ is to firstly avert harm (block, parry, evade, etc.), rapidly counter and enact the moves/techniques that we are drilling, so that after much repetition, our defensive response becomes innately natural.  

As cut and dry as the dojo partner practice of an attack followed by a defence may seem, there are nuances within, that are often overlooked and are just as important. How many of us look down or avert our attackers eyes while enacting a defence?  How many do a technique all the while admiring their own technique and not focused on their aggressor and their still viable capabilities?   How many ‘melt’ away from their finished move(s) and then relax thinking they are done with their defensive response just because they did the required move and then lazily turn their backs on their attacker?  Sometimes during these drills, we seem to be on automatic pilot and lose that all important focus and finality ‘feel’ for the technique and the scenario presented.

Looking down.  This habit actually draws your focus and intention down and directs your energies to an area not required.  By habitually looking down, are you still aware of other threats in the near vicinity?  Keeping eyes up allows our peripheral vision to readily scan and pick up any indications of threats nearby.  Our ‘eyes’ direct our intention while still aware of the attacker and their follow up, if any — let your response menacingly ‘Linger!’

These are common indications of lack of ‘focus’ and if we made ourselves a little more aware of our focus and intent, we’d find another gear with which to train.

Gary Christensen - ‘Mushin Matsubayashi Karatedo’