Have you ever broken boards with your bare knuckles? I hadn't until around 10 years ago. I attended a seminar that really opened my eyes.
I was used to punching my Senpai (teaching assistant called Jack), or friends in the dojo, but wooden boards aren't as, well, squidgy as punching a person!
We started off simple, with some plastic practice boards (you know the ones that slot together and come apart easily). After working my way up to the colour black (the hardest), I was feeling pretty confident. "I got this" the cocky voice in my head was saying.
That’s when the instructor said: “now that we've had our warm up, let's move on to wooden boards."
“Er, what now?” my head replied. “Okay, that‘s not a problem, it's only wood. How much harder can it be?”
Five minutes later, I'm still trying to break this damn wooden board. Now I'm not weak - not particularly strong either - but I like to think I can punch reasonably hard. The instructor took me to one side, and said something that has stuck with me for a long time:
"Commit to the punch and stop thinking about it."
As soon as he said that, it all changed for me. Instead of worrying about hurting myself, I focused on the task at hand. It almost became easy (almost!)
We then moved away from the wooden boards and onto slate. Yes, slate! As in the rock. Not the strongest of rocks, but still, my head was telling me "dude, you're trying to break a rock with your hand!?” Granted, it took a couple of goes, but after a while, I was managing these as well.
The problem wasn't my strength or technique, it was my attitude - or more specifically, the fear of breaking my hand. I've been told that Karate is 20% technique and 80% mental state. Indeed, Gichin Funakoshi said "mentality over technique" in his Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate.
When you first read that, it sounds absolutely mad. But the more you train and the more you practice, the more you come to realise that it's true.
I'm somewhere in my 30s now, but when I look back at being a child and teenager, I realise how dangerous and stupid the things I did, were. There was a lack of fear, nothing bothered me.
As you get older, that fear creeps up on you. When you think about it, that’s a good thing. It's fear that stops you from touching something hot. It's fear that stops you from climbing up a tree and trying to jump from a branch onto another tree (not my finest moment!)
To truly push yourself in Karate, you need to let go of fear. If you're going to punch a board, commit to it. If you're going to sweep someone, commit to it. Mr Miyagi from the Karate Kid (1984 version) said it best:
"Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle ... sooner or later you get squish like grape. Either you karate do 'yes', or karate do 'no'."
Can you imagine if you took that philosophy, and applied it to everyday life? If you’re going to do something, just do it. Don't think about it, don’t stress or worry about it, just commit to it.
We have a tendency to over think things in life. We get caught up by the smallest of details until they become an actual issue. It doesn't help that most of the time, we aren't present or in the moment.
Next time you're working on conditioning or punching a bag (or even wooden boards), try to breathe, focus on the moment, and commit to the punch.
Next time you have a boring job to do or an important piece of work, just focus on just that and commit to it completely. You might surprise yourself.