Is tameshiwari practical?
Let us now compare tameshiwari to another practical training method used by some martial arts systems to achieve similar results as tameshiwari. I am a firm believer in scenario training; it allows the martial artist to see how different actions and responses affect a multitude of situations we might find ourselves in. With the use of equipment, the martial artist can be protected to reduce the likelihood of injury. With the use of video equipment and playback, the martial artist can analyse their responses and self-evaluate. All good stuff. Where I think that scenario training can go massively wrong is many people will play the scenario how they think they will be tested and not as if it were real life. When you have all the padded gear on and are inside a nice warm, clean dojo, naturally you will take risks that you wouldn’t dream of doing had it been for real in the street! Many people I have spoken with after scenario training have also confirmed this and some even say the experience lacked any realism by way of inducing fear or an adrenaline dump, making it more like a fun game.
Although scenario training can teach the martial artist things tameshiwari cannot, those who have undergone their trail by breaking achieve a more real sense of fear and a requirement to make clear decisions under duress than that experienced by students undergoing scenario training. I do think it is easy to see why, though — hitting any solid object that could break your bones with full force and 100 per cent commitment is extremely hard to do. It is solely down to the karateka to commit to the shot in order to make the break pain-free; if you lack commitment or make one mistake, it will all end in tears!
MAKING TAMESHIWARI EFFECTIVE
For tameshiwari testing to be the effective tool I believe it to be, it must be conducted in the following manner. Students shouldn’t be allowed to practise breaking prior to their break. They should never know if they are able to complete the break, as there needs to be that element of doubt in order to spark the adrenaline and fear similar to that experienced in a live situation. On completion of a successful break, the student shouldn’t attempt the same break again. I feel it is important that the break be public (to induce fear and adrenaline) but this also now brings one’s ego and pride into the situation, piling on yet more pressure for the break to be completed successfully. The breaker should not have control over when they are to strike the target; the board should be moved at speed into position by the holder, from a ‘holstered’ position, without warning. Once the board reaches head height and is fixed into position, the striker is to hit with full force and zero hesitation from the fence position in order to successfully complete the break. It is also important that no time be given for the student to psych themselves up before throwing the strike; this is to ensure every effort is made to replicate a real pre-emptive strike. When faced with violence on the street, you don’t have time to psych yourself up, you just have to act and this should be replicated if tameshiwari is to be a practical training tool.
I believe the first break should be generic — for karate, say, jodan gyaku-tsuki (mid-level reverse-punch) on the favoured striking side. However, other breaks after this should be tailored to the individual in terms of material and type of strike. Something to bear in mind when choosing the next stage is if you’re going to use a strike on the street, test it in tameshiwari to see if you can make it work when the pressure is on.
PREPARING TO BREAK
So how do we prepare ourselves to undertake such a test if we can’t practise it beforehand? The following, I believe, is of utmost importance when training to undertake tameshiwari:
• Power-generation development
• Regular impact training
• Strength training
Anyone participating in practical martial arts, whether preparing for tameshiwari or not, should understand the real need for hojo undo (supplementary training). Hojo undo is strengthening of the body and technique through a variety of training methods and tools; whether it is lifting chi-ishi or striking a makiwara, pads or heavy bags, it’s all aimed toward achieving the same goal: building a powerful warrior. Where some strengthen bones and joints and the others strengthen muscles, a holistic approach to the use of these implements and training methods will make for greater striking ability and physical hardiness.
A quick search of the internet reveals some crazy ideas about how to prepare the body for combat, but as long as regular impact training is taking place on a reasonably tough surface, (e.g. rice pad or heavy bag) then the karateka can and will start to strengthen the necessary weak areas of the body used for striking. When conducting any form of striking or conditioning, it is vitally important that the full range of movement is being carried out so the whole technique can be strengthened and developed, as opposed to just knocking the hands against a hard surface, which will only serve to build calluses and will in no way strengthen your strikes. Calluses are a by-product of impact training, not the goal. If proper care is taken, calluses can, in fact, be avoided altogether!
The makiwara is an important training tool, even in the modern dojo. The benefits of this training aid should not be overlooked as, in conjunction with tameshiwari, it can help us develop devastating power. It strengthens every area involved in the delivery of striking techniques, from the small bones in the hands and feet to the joints of the wrist, elbow, shoulders, knees and ankle as well as the back and hips. The harder you hit the makiwara, the greater it will resist, and the greater the resistance, the stronger the strike will become. The great thing is a makiwara will let you know when you are striking the post with poor technique, something that other tools tend not to do.
Conditioning and striking development needs to be structured and progressive with realistic time being given to this type of training before moving on to harder surfaces with more resistance. This is important as damage and injury are the only possible outcome. When teaching, I have students strike hand pads and Thai pads to start with, spending plenty of time honing technique before moving on to the harder tools such as the rice pad and heavy bag. Some people feel that these are hard enough and offer sufficient resistance so don’t move on to the makiwara and this is perfectly fine; however, I believe to not use the makiwara is missing an opportunity to further enhance a technique for practical application. Eighteen months should be the minimum time spent on honing technique, development of power and conditioning before the student’s first break is attempted.
There is a real requirement for a successful pre-emptive strike in a real life situation. Why? Because it can make the difference between a ‘shoot and scoot’ (strike and escape from the altercation) or a night in A&E. One solid blow has the ability to stop a fight dead, making it easier for the victim to flee, gain shelter or call for help. Also, there is no legal requirement for a person to wait to be struck first before defending themselves, so as karateka this would seem to be the most effective way to defend ourselves. By striking first we give ourselves the upper hand and potentially open the door to escape; the key is developing hard enough strikes through training that can knock out or at least stun our attacker while having total control over your fear to be able to commit to the action; however, even with this knowledge some people still find it hard to strike first and act decisively because of that evil demon called fear. This is why tameshiwari is invaluable.
My overall self-defence strategy is based on three very simple rules that, I think, when enhanced through tameshiwari provide a good base for self-protection. They are as follows:
1 DON’T BE THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE
Use the soft skills of self-protection such as awareness, local knowledge and common sense to avoid dark, rough and dodgy places.
2 FIGHT TO FLEE, DON’T FIGHT TO WIN
If for whatever reason the soft skills fail and there is a requirement to use hard skills, never stand toe to toe; fight to create enough space in order to make your escape.
3 IF IN DOUBT, BANG HIM OUT
(My personal favourite) If after taking all the necessary precautions you are still caught in a situation where you and your senses are alarming (i.e. this person looks like he is about to present you with an immediate threat with no immediate chance of escape), take no chances — strike first, strike hard and escape to safety.
In conclusion, tameshiwari provides the karateka with a unique training opportunity to test the impact of a variety of strikes. It also creates a stressful environment that mimics closely the adrenaline and fear one might experience in a violent altercation. In conjunction with regular conditioning and strength training, tameshiwari serves to hone a vital component of the overall self-protection strategy, the pre-emptive strike. Coupled with the practical aspects of improving physical skill, tameshiwari, unlike almost all other training methods, puts the karateka in a position of genuine doubt, fear and, with hesitation, real pain! So how do you break an unbreakable board? Or overcome your fear of failure? Simply look inside, dig deep and hit it…hard! Remember, the greater the effort, the greater the reward — what at first may seem impossible now feels like a huge achievement. All the karateka’s hard work and training has paid off and they can be proud in the feeling that their training is on the right path. The test serves to truly test the karateka’s ability and can expose certain weaknesses. This is the real meaning of tameshiwari and that is why I feel it is important to include it in any practical karate dojo of today.
Andrew Raynor New Hampshire