A bright, hot day was waiting for Danny when he rolled out of bed. After a quick change of clothes, he started his day, as always, by going through his karate test routine. He flowed through the techniques letting his muscle memory take over. Danny now felt a little more comfortable with not having to force his techniques – mentally trying to remember the moves and stances. Out of breathe and slightly sweating he thought back through the routine he had just finished. Satisfied, he got ready for work.
It was nearing testing time and things were going well during class. Working hard and a changed practice schedule seemed to be working out. Also, doing a lot of sparring was increasing Danny’s focus on breathing, distance, movement and his fighting stance.
Now, muscle memory is a funny thing. If you practice a form or technique correctly when starting from one stance, your muscle memory will eventually kick in and you don’t have to think about whether you’re performing the technique correctly. You just know that you are and you feel it. But, if you change an aspect of your starting stance, you may find that the technique is not quite right. However, you may not realize it because you’re performing from old muscle memory and the old muscle memory made things “feel” right.
And so it is; when changing from performing kihon (basics) or kihon kumite from a ready stance to fighting stance, things might not be complete. When fighting or practicing jiyyu kumite, the exaggeration that is basic kihon is not required nor is it as beneficial. But due to that modification, something unexpected results. When practicing jiyyu-kihon, the technique is no longer being fully completed. In short, a step is skipped; the kihon [fundamental basic] phase jumped to the jiyyu [free] phase. The intermediate jiyyu-kihon phase was missed.
Ah-ha, “…each new technique builds on the previous” – now the three main phases in karate practice that are taught in class comes together. There’s phase one; the basic kihon phase. There’s the intermediate, jiyyu-kihon phase. And, there’s the third, jiyyu phase. In phase one, each technique is performed with a slight exaggeration. Full completion and extension is the focus. A fighting movement mentality is a secondary concern.
In the intermediate jiyyu-kihon phase, the mindset is a fighting freedom with a focus on fundamentals. This means that techniques still need to be completed as if you were doing basic kihon, but with the mindset and body language of one who is free and ready to fully engage. Practicing without fully settling in on the intermediate phase, develops an incomplete routine and muscle memory that is out of phase.
An example is that in phase one kihon, the non-striking hand is brought back completely to the side, as if performing an elbow strike to an opponent behind you. The same must be performed in the intermediate phase. What must be remembered is that in phase two it is still basics and each aspect of the technique must be clearly seen, yet thought, movement and intention is heightened.
Phase three; jiyyu is freedom of technique, movement, distance, breathing and tension & relaxation. The emphasis on the exaggeration of the technique is no longer the focus. At this point muscle memory has changed and is now more ready for true fighting, since it has passed through the other two phases. Thoughts are also on the martial aspects of the art; tactics and strategy.
In practicing, it’s important to understand which phase you’re in. If you’re testing for an intermediate rank, realize that you must perform within the intermediate phase. Being too stiff and performing as if you’re still in phase one doesn’t demonstrate your mastery of the phase that you’re in. And, being too free and focusing too much on movement, tactics and strategy doesn’t demonstrate a mastery of the intermediate phase.
So, when it comes time to test, can Danny, being in the intermediate phase be free and have the martial mentality, yet still demonstrate the fundamental techniques? It comes down to a proper understanding of being able to train your muscle memory to flow at the level that you’re performing at. If he can do that, he has a better chance of being successful.