There’s a series of TV ads running right now for one of the major insurance companies.  By singing the company’s ad jingle, the policy holder can take advantage of cash savings, prompt and courteous claim service or some other bit of product differentiation.  This is followed up by the always-present counterpart making up a random musical entreaty to their insurance company, with the result being a comically (at least the ad writers think so) deficient result – a dollar bill being dangled from a fishing line or the insured’s mother letting him know they’re sixth in the queue to speak to a claims rep on the phone.  The theme is always the same, though.  You can go with the good stuff and come out ahead or “settle” and pay the price at crunch time.


I started thinking about this in terms of our training a couple of days back.  How often do we really work to nail down a technique or kata, to get it as physically perfect as we can?  How often to we “settle”, giving in to the little voice inside that says “That was pretty good.” or “That was good enough.”?

The thrust of this thought process didn’t really focus on how the technique looks, though that is obviously not only a priority but an indication of how well we are executing our technique.  No, I branched off into a consideration of the effectiveness of what we’re doing for defensive purposes.

Let’s put this into a simple technique – gyaku tsuki from zenkutsu dachi (an opposite side strike from the standard front stance.  Consider that we have, in any one of a hundred different ways, evaded or blocked an attack from someone intent on doing us serious harm.  We are now positioned to the right side of this person, his ribcage superbly exposed and waiting for our counter.  We are in a perfect stance – rear leg straight, heal planted into the ground, good bend in the front leg.  We have our left arm chambered perfectly at our side, tight fist ready to do what it does so well.  Our right hand is extended, both effecting the proper distance between us and our opponent and preparing to grab their sleeve or arm, forcibly retracting and pulling them to us, doubling the power of that soon-to-follow strike.  We drive from the rear heel, up the calf and through the thigh.  Going up the body, we rotate our hips as we begin the extension of the chambered left arm.  Our fist crashes into the attacker’s ribs, directly on his jushin (center line).  Everything works in perfect union just as we’ve practiced thousands of times in class and on our own (you DO practice on your own, right?)

Does anybody harbor any doubt that under such a scenario, our unfortunate attacker is not only no longer a threat, but is very likely a candidate for an extended stint in the intensive care unit?

Ah, life in a perfect world………………

So now drops that dreaded other shoe:  Something doesn’t go quite right.  One or more of the following list occur………..

  • We don’t have a willing person that is just standing there waiting for us to break their ribs and destroy their kidney and/or liver.  Hitting their centerline isn’t a sure thing.
  • We don’t have firm footing and our stance doesn’t get locked out or anchored properly.
  • We’ve misjudged our distance and the other person is too far/close for an optimum strike.
  • The adrenaline rush has disrupted our flow, so we rush our strike instead of letting the entire body get behind it.
  • The sun’s in our eyes……….

OK, I’m getting a little sarcastic with the list of excuses.  The point, though, is that it is very, very unlikely that we are going to be afforded the opportunity to land that perfect punch.  So instead of the perfect punch, we’re landing an 80% perfect punch, or a 75% perfect punch or whatever.  It is still a pretty good bet that, while we may not have the one-shot definitive ending to our confrontation, we have still caused enough pain and trauma to allow us the necessary follow-up techniques to bring things to a conclusion.

So now you’re thinking to yourself “I’ve just read through 700 words that haven’t done anything but tell me that if I land 80% of a perfect technique things are still going to work out OK.  I could have checked out a couple of more memes on Facebook.”

As long as you’re thinking it to yourself.  I’d seriously suggest never vocalizing it to your sensei.  Here’s why…..  When was the last time you performed any of your techniques perfectly?  Conversely, when was the last time you finished a series of kihon or a kata and thought to yourself “That was pretty good.”?  Can you truthfully say to yourself that you can consistently, perfectly execute ANY technique in our system?  Have you suffered these delusions for an extended period of time?

And just why is it so flippin’ important that we do these things perfectly anyway?  No matter how well you do something,  your Sensei or one of the Masters or Kaicho is just going to find some miniscule thing to rub into the ground anyway.  Never fails, right?  You’re doing your stuff way better than that guy over there and nobody’s picking on him.

There’s two responses that need to be considered to that whole line of thinking.  We’ll start with our scenario with the attacker from earlier in this missive.  Say, instead of practicing your technique to as close to 100% as you can, you allow yourself to be satisfied with 80% goodness.  That’s just fine, because I said that the 80% technique was going to buy you the time to follow through and finish things, right?

Well, only partially weedhopper.  See, I was saying that 80% of a perfect technique would probably bail you out.  Because of any or all of the excuses that I listed however, say your 80% technique is only 80% effective.  Basic math skills tell us that now we’re hitting the bad guy with only 64% of our full capabilities.  And if we’re content to practice at less than 80%, at what percentage of perfect are we willing to allow ourselves to risk our necks for a defense that is much less than optimum?  Do you really want to depend on 64%?  50%?  35%?  Let me know how that works out, because I have no interest in such experimentation.  If I find myself in a confrontation that has degraded to the point of violence, I want it over – as quickly and efficiently as I can possibly make it so.  There’s way too many variables to make it worth wasting my time on “good enough.”

That’s one thing.

Now as to being “picked on” (and yes, I’ve heard that term used) by the higher-ups………..  Here’s a little tidbit you need to keep in the back of your head.

The absolutely, positively most dreadful thing that can ever happen to you as a student (regardless of your rank) is to have a person in a teaching capacity notice that you are screwing something up and not be on you like stink on a cow patty.  See, instructors have a limited amount of time to work with people, be it in small groups or dozens at the National Seminar.  One person can only spend so much time with anyone and they don’t want that time wasted.  If you are giving off the vibe that a technique or kata isn’t worth your best effort, then you my friend, aren’t worth theirs, either.  There are people that want to be the best they can at what they do and the instructors are going to be there for them.  You don’t have to be the most physically coordinated, in the best shape or whatever scale you want to be measured on.  You do, though, have to be working at making the most with the tools you have.

So there’s two major reasons to give it your best effort, every time you practice.  One can keep you alive.  The other can have serious repercussions on how far and how fast you advance in your art.  Most importantly, though, is the consideration that if you’re giving it your absolute best on the dojo floor, then its also very likely that your doing exactly the same in your school or job, with your relationships and your family, and everybody is better off for that.

Train well!