training tool: the two-metre sprint

or: your opponent is not a wall

a favourite phrase of mine when teaching is 'the two-metre sprint', and i use it to illustrate a couple of ideas that cross over from competition kumite to self-defence. i like the phrase because i think it conjures a nice image, of an athletic track with sprinters on blocks only two metres away from the finishing line. how would you train for such a race? would it have value?

it is likely that, at some point in your training, you've done some jogging up and down the dojo as part of the warm-up. and if you've done that, then you've probably done some sprinting too; its an easy way of getting the circulation going and warming up before stretching. chances are, though, that in the limited length of your training hall, you didn't get up to much of a speed before you had to start slowing down again, in order to avoid hitting the wall at the other end. how fast could you get if, instead of a wall, it was a finish line with space beyond? with no barrier, you would be free to continue accelerating at maximum all the way to the line - this is of course what you see in the 100 metres athletics. but with a wall coming, the person who will touch the wall first is going to be the person who is either more willing to take a high-speed collision with an immovable object, or the person best equipped to slow down in a short space of time. acceleration suddenly seems much less critical, and moreso if the race is shorter.

this is the one central idea behind the deliberately absurd notion of the two-metre sprint; imagine if the two-metre sprint was not to a finish line, but a solid wall. how different would the race become? considerably slower, i imagine, if the criteria of 'crossing the line' were the head or the chest touching the wall. and with that in mind, here is the application to karate: is your opponent, standing let's say two metres away, a finish line or a wall?

it is okay to cross the finish line

and, in crossing the 'finish line', totally take out your opponent. why not? they're your opponent, after all. if you go to attack your opponent thinking that you need to slow down before you get to them - as if they were a wall - you will not get there as fast as you can, and as such you are decreasing your chance of successfully getting away (in a self-defence situation) or scoring (in a competition situation). forget about slowing down; it only slows you down! your opponent will slow you down as you go through them, and they are not a wall - they will move. and you will have delivered the fastest, strongest technique you are capable of, and given yourself the best chance of success.

we already know this

this argument also applies on the level of individual techniques, and is something you may have heard of being phrased as 'hitting through the target'; there is no need to slow down your fist (or foot, etc) as if you wanted to stop at the surface of your opponent, since this wouldn't achieve anything. instead, you go through. when you punch or kick into thin air, you tend to worry about slowing down in order to avoid hyperextension and to stop dead and look dramatic. and of course at full extension, the limit of your body will slow and stop itself. if this is all you do, then you practice stopping dead at your target, because that is the point of your focus, and it is all you will ever do. but when you have a target in front of you, and you aim to attack through the target, you are accelerating all the time, right from initiation to impact - it is the impact that slows you, not the limit of extension or the conscious effort to stop on point.

and so similarly, when initiating an attack from a fighting distance of two metres or so, it makes no sense to be anything other than accelerating the entire distance from initiaion to impact. this makes your attack the fastest it can possibly be, and also therefore the most likely to succeed. but if you are too worried, or too polite, to just crash into your opponent, there are more elegant alternatives.

my favourite technique

as my club all know, and have all practiced, is a variation on jun-tsuki that applies this idea of not slowing down to avoid 'running into the wall'. the modifcation is that you run past the wall, striking on the way past, and begin immediately to make your escape.

2m sprint image2m sprint image2m sprint image2m sprint image

in these images, the attack is initiated form a normal matched stance (fig 1) at the usual competition distance. in order to control the opponent and minimise the chance of being hit, the front hand takes the opponent's front hand and presses it across their body (fig 2). now the path to the jodan target is clear for the punch, and the punch is launched as well as the back foot beginning to move. crucially, the movement is not towards the opponent, but past them on as shallow an angle as possible to their outside (fig 3). regardless of whether the punch scores, i move past the opponent into safe territory (fig 4) without having to stop or reverse as i would if i went straight towards them; i continue to accelerate through the target. i don't have to worry about being polite and stopping before i run into someone, or about apologising if i do run into them, i can just go, as fast as i can: to the target, through the target, and away. in the two-metre sprint, there is no reason to not always be accelerating.

- neil jerome, 2011