Friday, 27 February 2009

Karate is....never having to say you're sorry

When I signed up to learn karate I knew that it would almost certainly involve some physical contact with other people. I had worked out before I even started that occasionally that contact may be a bit painful or unpleasant, after all it is essentially a fighting art. However I reasoned that I would just have to learn to take it, to toughen up, and I have learned to do so. However, this does not seem to stop my partners from constantly apologising to me every time they hit the pad hard, push me off balance a little or catch my ankle awkwardly with a sweep. They don't hurt me by doing this, in fact it generally means they are doing it well! They don't need to keep saying sorry, I know they are nice people and they aren't trying to hurt me. But the apology is off putting. It says to me, ' I don't like hurting you so please don't hurt me!' This obviously has an inhibiting effect on me when I am punching the pad in return or sparring with that person. I have even had partners who at the beginning of a sparring session have said to me, 'I don't like hurting people'. The subliminal message here is, 'so go easy on me'.

This culture of constant apologies makes it very difficult to practice your karate to your full ability because there seems to be a general fear (at least amongst the women) of getting hurt or hurting someone. In Dave Lowrey's book, Traditions, he devotes a short chapter to this very problem of whether to apologise to your partner if you have accidentally hurt them. He basically says that the need to keep apologising is, '...the unconditioned response of the untrained budoka'.
He further states that the dojo, ' not the place for unconditioned responses,' and that the budoka, '...must realise that there is a chance, a risk involved, every time he trains.' When we take up a martial art we voluntarily accept an 'assumed risk' and should not be surprised if occasionally we get hurt or hurt someone.

So how do we deal with it? Well I don't think we should apologise at all for doing karate properly on an opponent. If a partner hits the pad really hard and I feel the shock wave through my body or get pushed back a few paces, or they make contact with me in sparring I should be saying well done, not expecting an apology, and vice-versa. However, if someone does genuinely get hurt by a mis-hit, Dave Lowrey suggests that the perpetrator should first accept responsibility by saying, ' my fault' and then just say, 'you okay?'. In other words keep it simple, honest, straightforward and respectful.

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Michele said...

Excellent post.

When my instructor teaches a women's self-defense seminar, she makes all the participants say "I am sorry" before the session begins. Then she tells them that they are not allowed to say it anymore.

Perhaps we are conditioned to be polite. Outside the dojo, I catch myself saying "sorry" when the better response would be for me to say "pardon me" or "excuse me".

Sue C said...

Thanks Michele. Thats a great idea to get all the apologies said at the beginning of a session.

We are definately conditioned to say sorry from a very early age and we tend to say it spontaneously - I'm just as guilty of it as other women in our club it's just that I've recently realised that it's a problem and I need to do something about it.

Littlefair said...

Ha, yes! I have the same (fantastic) book: he says, "Sumimasen, Daijobu desu ka?" which he translates as, "My fault, you ok?"

I was terrible for saying sorry and excuse me in the beginning. I have a natural disadvantage in that I'm English...! Call me cynical but as I've aged I do tend to take the "My fault, you ok?" approach. I guess that when I started out I was, indeed, scared of being hurt but I've accepted that this might happen so I've relaxed a bit. It's not such a bad thing to cop a smack in the chops now and then. Obviously we don't mean to but it's best to be focused on the hit rather than aim to the side.

Check out this post I saw recently regarding correct aiming:

Sue C said...

Thanks for the link - I'll check it out


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