Yakusoku Kumite Drills and Context

by Sensei David S. Hogsette

I was training Yakusoku Kumite drills the other night, and I wasn’t getting a particular block/deflection move just right with one of my partners. Here are some of my thoughts and reactions:

My defensive moves where getting jammed up sometimes, so I was trying to work different angles and timing. Then my partner said something to the effect that maybe he wasn’t punching me right, that maybe his attack technique was off. I found it interesting that he would blame his attack for my not defending as effectively as I could have. That really got me to thinking about what are our assumptions when we train. I cannot expect my attacker to punch or grab or kick or choke me “correctly.” I must learn to adjust to what is being thrown at me.

That is an important training point, it seems to me. When we are practicing Yakusoku kimite drills or any partner drills in the dojo, we are practicing with other trained karateka. We expect kicks to be just so and punches to be executed with a certain technical form and proficiency. Consciously or not, this may lead to our thinking that training is about learning to fight other trained people. Consider who we fight in the dojo, or at tournaments, or in the ring. We are trained karateka fighting other trained karateka, and we expect techniques to be delivered in certain ways. This particular mindset represents training for the martial arts and sport contexts.

As fun, interesting, and important as that context is, it’s not the only one. And, when it comes to practical self-defense, it’s not the best context for training. When training for the self-protection context, we must keep in mind that the attacker is probably not trained (but may very well be quite experienced), and he is not going to throw a perfect thrust punch or nicely placed reverse punch or a beautifully arching hook punch. Nope. He’s blasting in with whatever has worked for him in the past, and it will most likely be ugly, wild, and unconventional, but effective, damaging, and even deadly.

So, how do we deal with this discrepancy in the dojo where techniques are tight? What’s the use of practicing kihon and Yakusoku kumite drills for a self-defense context? Some things to consider:

  1. These drills teach us about body movement, and that is the most important skill to develop in all the various training contexts, including self-defense.
  2. Partner drills teach us about timing and distance, which are also directly relevant to self-defense contexts.
  3. Training with many different partners helps us to adjust to different body types, skills, and techniques, and this will help us to adjust to what is thrown at us in the street.
  4. Partner drills, while controlled, helps us to overcome our natural fear of being hit and our tendency to flinch or recoil when things come at us fast and furious. In the street, you cannot flinch but must press on with your techniques and in with your counters so as to survive and get out of the situation as quickly and safely as you can.
  5. Consider developing more realistic drills and sparring that is based on kata bunkai (what some practitioners like Iain Abernethy call kata-based sparring).

My final takeaway from that night of training was simply this: When engaging in partner drills, we should adjust to what is thrown at us, and don’t expect all the techniques to be picture-perfect. That’s why training with lower ranks is sometimes better, because they do not yet have that karate kick or punch style, and their techniques can be wild and unpredictable, like in the street. Train with different contexts in mind.